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3 Ways To Focus Your Wandering Mind And Fuel Productivity

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Do you have trouble staying focused? For several years I knew I wanted to start writing again and to build up a thriving side-hustle as a freelance writer. I would schedule my day so that I had time to write after work. Then I would get home from work, and start to write, only to find that my mind would quickly wander off.

Typically I would be either ruminating about something that happened in the past, or planning and worrying about the future. I know I am not alone in this struggle to focus. If you are like me, you probably experience the ‘monkey mind’ – a wandering and scattered mind that just can’t stay focused.

Not only does mind-wandering make us less productive, it can make us less happy. Indeed, a Harvard study found that when people’s minds were wandering, they tended to be less happy, because during mind-wandering our thoughts often tend towards negative rumination such as our worries and our regrets. .

I wasted a full year letting my mind-wandering get the best of me. I decided to get serious about learning to focus and to stop wasting time.

Here are three ways I have learned to focus the wandering mind:

1. Know your why

Remember your motivation for doing the task in the first place. This will greatly enhance your ability to focus and get things done. Make sure you know why you need the focus, and get clear on what will happen if you don’t focus.

Even if this particular task feels like is more something you must do than something you are motivated to do, think about the bigger picture. How does this task relate to a larger project or career goal that is highly motivating for you? For example, will this task help strengthen a particular skill you need to get a promotion or transfer into a new role?

If you can’t find one single motivating reason to be doing this task, consider not doing it at all. Move onto something else.

“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” – William Barclay

2. Structure your workflow

We all have a finite attentional window. Structure your workflow to be in line with that capacity. Work can be seen as a series of sprints  – and to be our most productive and most creative, we need to unplug throughout our workdays.

This can be accomplished in two ways. The first is to schedule your most important work during the time you are typically most awake, energetic and focused.

Get to know your energy cycles, and when you are at your best. Schedule your workflow to be aligned with your best energy capacity. For example I always schedule creative or strategic projects for first thing in the morning, my most focused time of the day.

The second way is break tasks down into smaller tasks and schedule them in short spirits. Work for about an hour straight with no distractions, no multitasking or checking email. Then, take a short break and walk around the office or go get some fresh air. This will enable you to be more productive throughout the full day.

 

3. Monitor your mind

The most important way to stop the wandering mind, is to monitor it. Daniel Goleman, author of Focus, recommends periodic mind monitoring throughout the day. Noticing where your mind has gone – such as checking Facebook instead of working on that report – gives you the chance for an important check in: “my mind has wandered off again.”

That very thought disengages your brain from where it has wandered and activates brain circuits that can help your attention get unstuck and return to the work at hand. So each time you notice your mind has wandered away from the task at hand, name it by saying ‘wandering’ and then bring your mind back to the task you are working on.

If you notice that your mind always wanders to the same place, to social media or checking email for example, this might be a good indicator that you need to limit these distractions. Try working with your phone in another room or a few hours, or disconnect from the wifi in your office so it takes an extra step to get back online. That extra step should be enough to stop you from going online.

Practice makes perfect 

Time is our most precious resource, once it is spent we can never get it back. By continuing to be unfocused time slips by, and we may find that we are no closer to our goals than we were a year ago.

The good news is that we can change our ways and overcome the habitual thoughts patterns of the mind. Building our ‘focus muscle’ is like going to the gym. Willpower is like a muscle… over time with training, we can strengthen our attention.

“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” – Mary Tyler Moore

The reward for all this practice? By training our minds to be more focused, we will take action towards our goals, and be more productive and happier at work and in our daily lives.

How do you focus your wandering mind? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Image courtesy of Twenty20.com

Heidi Hill is a writer and mindfulness educator intent on helping everyone reach their full potential. Heidi shares research-backed mindfulness tools to help people change their relationship to stress and reclaim their joy. Grab her free guide: 5 Simple Mindfulness Practices to Help You Focus and Instantly Increase Your Energy. You can also check out her website here: http://www.lifeinfullbloom.com.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Camilla Hallstrom

    Feb 22, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Wonderful post, Heidi! I’ve recently realized how much more I got done by disconnecting my WiFi or by using a program like FocusWriter 🙂

  2. Avatar

    Robert Bowley

    Feb 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Heidi
    I loved reading your article. Three really useful tips to remember. I couldn’t agree more, that practice is the key to them all.
    Looking forward to your next blog!

    Rob

  3. Avatar

    Yash Chauhan

    Feb 18, 2016 at 4:35 am

    Very good Article, Heidi !

  4. Avatar

    Christie

    Feb 17, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Good post! I think we are all forgetting how to focus and concentrate. I blame it on all the beeping media we have surrounded ourselves with. We need to choose when we have media usage and then turn it off.

  5. Avatar

    Corinne Kerston

    Feb 17, 2016 at 4:00 am

    Hi Heidi,
    I have a huge problem with focus and lack of attention. I appreciate these wonderful tips.

    Corinne

  6. Avatar

    April

    Feb 17, 2016 at 3:53 am

    Great article Heidi! I really like your tips and will try to put them into practice. I think they’d be especially helpful when you are not super motivated to get to the tasks at hand.

  7. Avatar

    Charlene Rhinehart

    Feb 17, 2016 at 2:29 am

    Thanks for sharing, Heidi! Your first point about remembering your WHY is crucial. It’s easy to lose focus if you have lost your why. Keeping your why at the center of your ambitions will help you gain the strength needed to continue on your journey.

    • Avatar

      Heidi Hill

      Feb 17, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      Hi Charlene, thanks so much for your comment. I am glad you found the post helpful!

  8. Avatar

    Quinn Eurich

    Feb 16, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Hi Heidi,

    I’m really big on your #1 tip! Not only does it help you focus, but when you think of the type of mindset you need in order to accomplish the task, it helps even more.

    That comes in very handy for me when doing those tasks I don’t particularly care to do, or when a piece of writing needs a specific tone.

    Good advice!

    Thanks very much for sharing!

    Qyubb

    • Avatar

      Heidi Hill

      Feb 17, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Hi Quinn, thanks for your comment. I am so glad you liked these tips! – Heidi

  9. Avatar

    Sue Anne Dunlevie

    Feb 16, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Hi, Heidi,

    Loved this article! Very interesting that an unfocused mind makes you less happy. Good reason to follow your steps.

    Thanks for the great info.
    Sue

  10. Avatar

    Dinesh N Sathe

    Feb 16, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Great notes .
    Liked the ” Disconnect Wi-fi” point .
    Power of Focus is awesome .

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