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7 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

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. With any luck it will propel your brain back into action. It’s also an effective proofreading tool.

5. Set a time limit. If you are assigned a data-entry project, it’s tough to stay focused from sheer boredom. Unfortunately, you can also lose track and make mistakes. Try setting a timer for 30 minutes to finish each chunk of the spreadsheet. You will not only anticipate the alarm, you’ll be determined to complete your goal in record time.

6. Take the worry out of it. If you have a personal issue that’s been dogging you for days, your mind will dwell on the problem, not your work.

“These feelings limit your ability to focus on anything else,” says Jonathan Smallwood, PhD, a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen's school of psychology. "You may spend a lot of time thinking about a problem when you're upset, but this type of ruminating is actually quite unproductive."

Instead, try writing it out before you punch in. Getting it down on paper can help put a plan into action and get it off your plate until the end of the day.

7. Eat a good breakfast. Studies have found that eating breakfast improves short-term memory and better attention. Breakfast foods that fuel the brain include whole grains, dairy, and fruits. Fattening or high-calorie foods tend to hinder concentration, so opt for the apple instead of the donut.


MSNBC - Today’s Health - 10 tricks to reboot your brain. Web. 30, September, 2011

WebMD - ADD-ADHD - Slideshow: Brain Foods That Help You Concentrate. Web. 30, September, 2011

Reviewed October 3, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Malu Banuelos

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