Do you ever catch yourself daydreaming during an important meeting or zoning out when working on a deadline? Believe it or not, it’s normal.
The brain likes to wander whenever possible. In fact, according to a joint study by Harvard University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, researchers discovered that the part of the brain responsible for daydreaming and mind wandering remains mobile whether we are awake or asleep.
One study indicates that our minds wander about 30 percent of our waking hours no matter how hard we try to concentrate. “Boredom, fatigue, and stress all spur mind wandering,” says study author Michael Kane, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
It may be comforting to know that when we are staring out the window instead of the computer, our minds are telling us to take a break. But the boss may not be so understanding when he expects a report on his desk by the end of the day.
So what can we do to stay focused and keep our minds on the tasks at hand?
1. Clear distractions. Get rid of everything on your desk except the project you need to tackle. Post-its, to-do lists, memos, even pictures of the grandkids should be piled in a box or envelope and stashed under your desk until the current project is complete. Out of sight, out of mind.
2. Have some caffeine. If you feel yourself zoning out, take a trip to the coffee lounge or the nearest vending machine. The caffeine in coffee, chocolate or energy drinks can boost your brain into action when you need it most.
That extra jolt should help you through until the next break. Just don’t overdo it. You can’t get anything done when you have the jitters.
3. Take a walk. When you feel your mind start to wander, take a walk outside or around the building. A change of scenery will wake up your brain with new sights and sounds. Within 10 minutes you should be ready to focus once again.
4. Read in reverse. If you find yourself skimming over important reading material, try reading each paragraph backward. It will feel strange, but that’s the idea.