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Tips of how you can get focused during work and study

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The average person's mind wanders nearly half the time. Here's how to pull it back to attention. Art: Rose Wong The New York Times

According to a 2010 Harvard University study, the average person’s mental wanders is 47% of the time. Therefore, when you do one thing, you are thinking about other things nearly half of the time.

Coupled with the 24-hour news cycle, the proliferation of social media, and countless disturbances to people working in bedrooms, backyards and walk-in closets. This number has tripled from 8.2% in February 2020 to A 35.2% Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas study in February 2020 showed that in May 2020-it’s no surprise that people are trying to concentrate.

“Some would argue that human attention, not money, is the most valuable commodity there is,” said Angela Duckworth, author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”. He is also a founder and scientific director of Character Lab (non-profit organization) that connect with researchers and educators. “It’s the ultimate scarce resource.”

Focus is a skill you can cultivate and improve.

The good news is that concentration is a skill that can be cultivated and improved. And your brain can learn to ignore interference. Here are some techniques you can try to increase your concentration and productivity during a pandemic.

DISENGAGE FROM DISTRACTIONS
NYT You can get focus TV

(Photo: Unsplash/Mollie Sivaram)

For at-home workers struggling with distractions, a recent survey revealed that social media is the main reason (many people waste up to two hours a day) as the second reason.

You can reduce the annoying jingles, tweets and ringtones from social media feeds, emails, and text messages. For example, simply turning off notifications.

If you’re trying to control your attention, don’t just try to do it with willpower. You literally need to hack your physical space.

Taking children home while working remotely poses a challenge to stay focused. Nir Eyal, the author of the book “Indistractable”, suggests setting clear signs so that young children know when they should not be disturbed. Eyal recommends finding the craziest hat you can find-he calls it the crown of concentration. He said: “When my daughter sees me wearing it, I don’t need to interrupt my call and explain that I’m busy, because she knows the hat means that daddy’s working and can’t be distracted.”

When you are engrossed and fused with the focal object, distraction can prevent you from finding your own state. “For parents with children at home, creating the environment in which flow can actually happen may mean clearly articulating boundaries of your time,” said Sasha Heinz, a developmental psychologist and life coach.  “Instead of two parents half working and half taking care of the kids, you need to communicate with your partner and block off time for each of you when no interruption is allowed.”

STICK TO A SCHEDULE
NYT You can get focus SCHEDULE

(Photo: Unsplash/Emma Matthews)

Nowadays, increasing your attention means planning your work day thoughtfully and setting the start and stop times and specific time periods for almost everything in between. These include meetings and tasks such as writing, reading, editing or research, as well as rest, eating, and reading emails. Eyal said: “The structured approach is to set a timetable to limit our time.” “When we know what today is like, we will perform best.”

We perform at our best when we know what our day is going to look like.

Eyal recommends using a timetable calendar instead of keeping a to-do list. These tasks are often not completed and returned to the list the next day. “Because there are only 24 hours in a day, a calendar forces you to prioritize, to make a choice – do I want to do this or that?” he said. “With a timebox calendar, the goal is not to finish anything; the goal is to work on that task for as long as you said you would without distraction.”

ADDITIONAL SCHEDULING STRATEGIES
NYT You can get focus IDEAS

(Photo: Unsplash/Absolutvision)

MEETINGS: Make an agenda for each meeting. Thus, you and other attendees have an idea of how much time it will take and what you hope to accomplish.

CONNECTIONS AND SOCIAL MEDIA: Rather than read every email the moment it lands in your inbox, schedule two or three specific time slots during the day to batch them. Similarly, you can allocate a time to make personal phone calls and another to scroll through social media.

QUIET TIME: With days of back-to-back meetings, it’s hard to fit in time to think and write, often the part of the job that gets relegated to early mornings or late nights. Eyal likes to use the “do-not-disturb-while-driving” function on his iPhone no matter what task he’s involved in, knowing that if the sender types urgent, the message will come through. “There’s so much we can do to get the best out of these products without letting them get the best of us,” Eyal said.

REFUEL: After a period of focused concentration, it’s important to take a brief micro-break to recharge. According to a study in the International Journal of Stress Management. Schedule breaks for short unfocused activities, such as a quick walk or some stretching, as well as time to eat lunch.

EXERCISE: Allotting time for exercise is a proven way to improve focus, memory and productivity. A British study found that workers experienced a 21 per cent increase in concentration. 41 per cent increase in motivation on the days they worked out.

CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF
NYT You can get focus BRAIN FOG

(Photo: Unsplash/Luis Villasmil)

The state of the world is enough to confuse anyone’s brain. Mr. Eyal said: “The reason we lose focus most of the time is because we are looking to escape some kind of discomfort. For example, stress, anxiety, loneliness or boredom.”

If watching or reading the news increases your anxiety, please limit the time spent. When you feel lonely or isolated from the world, arrange a day to talk with family or friends. If you are bored, take a break and try a new hobby.

The reason we lose focus most of the time is because we are looking to escape some kind of discomfort, such as stress, anxiety, loneliness or boredom.

Mindfulness meditation involves the current moment-your thoughts, emotions and feelings-no matter what happens. Studies have shown that mindfulness exercises can improve working memory and concentration, and can train the mind to eliminate interference.

“The digital world has been engineered for distraction, and with quick hits from social media, we don’t see how unrewarding these distractions are.” 

Judson Brewer, director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center and associate professor of psychiatry at the university’s medical school said.

Dr. Brewer recommends that you try it. Stop all the jingles and chirps on your phone for 20 minutes.. Then, ask yourself: “What can I concentrate on? how do you feel? “Then turn off all notification sounds for 20 minutes, and then ask the same question.

Dr. Brewer said: “Compare those two, and the brain will make the obvious choice – being focused feels better.”

“If we can see that focus is rewarding, we can lay that down to memory.”

There are many apps with guided meditation functions that can help you learn and develop mindfulness. The Headspace app recently introduced a “focus” mode designed to help people focus on “what matters most to them.” It offers meditation exercises like “preparing for a presentation” and “unlocking creativity,” “exam prep” and “ending your day.” Focus Music is curated by the musician and Chief Music Officer of Headspace John Legend, and includes various playlists. The songs are all instrumental, so as not to distract the audience with lyrics.

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Here’s how you can get focused (Hint: Put down that phone)

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