I had just poured myself my third cup of coffee and I realized something very important. I remember because as I put the coffee to my lips I looked up at the clock. It was 11am on the dot.
I had accomplished nothing at all. I rebooted my computer. I visited with a few friends. I went to meeting that was cancelled at the last minute.
Literally nothing was accomplished in 2 and a half hours.
Have you ever had a morning like this?
Working in a shared or open environment is a challenge. It’s easy to get distracted or distract a friend.
After years of procrastination and lack of concentration, I finally took it upon myself to do something about this. I set out on a mission to enhance my mental state so that I could improve my focus, productivity, and just feel a lot happier at work!
I've been working on improving my own concentration for nearly a decade. I never look at the clock and think I haven’t accomplished anything yet today. I’ve made big strides in my productivity.
Here is how I did it.
1. Buy into Brain Food (and Drink!)
Avoid the cereal bars and mid-morning chocolate. Foods that are rich in zinc, such as pumpkin seeds, can help fight brain decline and improve thinking skills, so go for them instead.
Pumpkin seeds are a convenient office snack too. I normally pack a small Tupperware pot of mixed seeds, which I can sprinkle over my morning yogurt or simply snack on whilst checking emails first thing.
You might also want to consider bringing in fresh blueberries. Blueberries are packed with vitamins C and E and the flavonoids in these berries activate an enzyme that improves the flow of blood to the brain. In one office I worked at, fresh fruit was delivered on Fridays for staff to snack on. All for free. Who doesn’t like free snacks? Definitely an incentive to eat healthier.
Other brain-friendly foods include omega-3 rich walnuts and oily fish. Omega-3 has been shown to boost your mood, prevent cognitive decline and there is proof that that it can even enhance your memory. Walnuts might be the preferred choice for the office, unless you want to alienate colleagues!
Fill up on plenty of water as well. My office has a huge water cooler, which I am lucky enough to be positioned right next to. Not only is dehydration the number one cause of headaches, fresh water has also been proven to help your brain work faster.
2. Sit Properly
Invest in a decent chair and practice good posture throughout your day. Bad posture is not only distracting, as it can cause brain fogginess and pain, but it is also dangerous. The long-term implications of not choosing to invest in a suitable office chair, or take part in any exercise, can mean that you might not even be able to work, let alone have problems concentrating in the working environment.
Get up and talk to your colleagues as well. Not only is it better for maintaining professional relationships at work, it gives your back a break from ‘the chair’.
3. Tune into the Right Music
Are you allowed to play music in your office?
My office prohibits music, but you can listen to headphones. And thank goodness. Certain types of music can help aid concentration. Forget your favourite playlist on Spotify and use a recommended service, such as Focus@Will, which lets you tune into music specifically selected to help you focus on the task at hand. Choose from channels such as Focus Spa or Up Tempo and engage in scientifically proven music to tune into your brain’s limbic system. This is the part of your brain that regulates the easily-distracted fight or flight mode.
I now work in an energetic environment, people are always moving and talking to each other. This is great, but only when you’re in that kind of mood too. So what about when you just want to zone out and actually get something done? Yeah, well head to the headphones. And don’t feel like you’re missing out. You’ve got work to accomplish!
4. Ban Digital Time Suckers
Facebook is my nemesis. I love it and hate it, all at the same time. Time suckers, in my opinion, are any apps, websites or media devices that crave your attention. It’s difficult to switch off from notifications on your mobile or constantly checking your email account. But in order to do your best work, you need to be able to escape from these time consumers.
I like to enlist the help of a dedicated resource, such as Rescue Time. This app sits silently in the background and records all the time I spend on different websites. I can review my progress by checking statistics at the end of the day or get sent a weekly email.
I can track my time conveniently and see where I’m tripping up with social media. (And my favourite place to shop, the ASOS sale.)
5. Work in Chunks
This is my favourite tip. Working in chunks and taking breaks.
This method of chunking, the Pomodoro technique, has been around since the 1980s.
It works by breaking your time into manageable, twenty-five minute chunks. Each chunk is called a ‘pomodoro’ (Italian for tomato). After each pomodoro, you take a five minute break. After four pomodoros, you can take a longer break, typically around twenty minutes.
So, I normally check my emails, take a break, work on my biggest project for two Pomodoros, then move on to something a little lighter. After that, I take a longer break before hitting my biggest project again.
You get to keep motivated and boost your concentration. And you get a great excuse to buy a 1980s tomato timer.
I have been working on improving my concentration in the work environment for almost 7 years. At last, I feel like I am finally nailing it, but there has been a lot of trial and error along the way.
Remember: eat right, drink lots of water, sit properly, don’t be afraid to zone out (but not on social media!) and reward yourself with breaks. After all, no employer wants a distracted employee or contractor.
Do you have a proven productivity tip that has helped your career? (share in the comment section so we can help each other become more productive.)
Alex Sebuliba loves to read write and share tips on how to excel within the working environment. Alex’s aim in life is to become a recognised motivational preacher.
* Image courtesy of Luca Mascaro