Concentration problems usually lead to bad emotions. Do you know the feeling when the day is about to end and you suddenly realize that you haven’t finished nor achieved anything at all, even though you spent the entire day in front of the computer? All you feel is anger, frustration and disappointment. Here, in just a few simple steps, is how to avoid this and keep your mind clear.
Read this article to learn how to REALLY improve your concentration, bring focus and mindfulness to your everyday work, in order to become an achiever with a peaceful mind and start feeling like the master of your life!
1. The devil is in the details
Some time ago I moved to another country and a new place. The apartment was almost empty and I had to buy lots and lots of furniture and other things – a new desk, tables, bookstands, lamps, and kitchen equipment, etc. There were some wooden kitchen chairs though, and after all these expenses, I decided to save some money and use one of these to create my new workplace.
After about a week I found myself extremely unproductive. I felt tired, sad, irritated and distracted day after day. I even started thinking that maybe I should have never left my old place, where I had built my perfect home office. I started blaming nostalgia, change of climate (I moved from Southern France to Wales, UK), and other things. “You just need to adapt,” I would explain to myself. Well, that was not really the case. The wooden kitchen chair I was using was in fact quite comfortable, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The low emotional state persisted, until one day I looked in a mirror that I had just moved from another room, and I suddenly discovered how bad my posture was.
My laptop was way too low in relation to my head, the new table was simply too short, and the chair was too tall. I had to constantly tilt my head and bend my neck to look down at the computer screen. Also, the light bulb above my desk went out, and now my computer screen was too bright compared to the background. I was so busy feeling guilty and let down that I didn’t even realize what my biggest problem was!
It was the ‘aha!’ moment. I went shopping and bought myself a new, fully adjustable and comfortable office chair, a new light bulb and a laptop stand. Now the screen was right even with my eyes, my back was straight and I was totally comfortable.
Guess what? My concentration and productivity increased about by 400% and I started hustling again. Lesson learned: Never save on your workplace (especially if you work from home)! Every buck spent to buy a new, brighter and better-definition PC screen, a new office chair, keyboard or adjustable desk, or to provide better lighting, will definitely be a buck spent well. The same goes for your bed. Save on that fancy new TV set, a few nights of partying and drinking or a new dumb phone, but never save on your workspace!
Take a moment to think about whether the place where you usually work is completely comfortable. Sometimes we get so stingy that we decide to save on our own health, productivity and mental condition. Sometimes we take all these everyday little things for granted and don’t pay attention anymore.
Is your posture correct? Is your chair right? Is your working place comfortable and well-lit? Is your computer screen bright, large enough and good for your eyes? If not, both your mind and body will do anything to stop you from achieving your goals and you will have to spend countless hours thinking, “Why can’t I just focus? Why can’t I finish anything? What’s wrong with me?”
Remember, the devil is in the details. Sometimes it’s furniture, sometimes bad lighting, and other times it’s not enough fresh air in your room, or it could even be the three packs of microwave popcorn you just had last night.
2. Take care of your everyday mindfulness (block the noise out)!
Another struggle I had not that long ago was that I would start my day browsing news from my country and all around the world, reading and answering e-mails, scrolling down the Facebook wall and checking other social media. I was thinking of it as of “the pre-work chill out time.”
Now, let me now give you a $2000.00 idea for free: Start using blocking and filtering plug-ins for the internet browsers you use, and filter out all the crap and fillers, at least for the amount of time you need to complete your main goals each day!
- Download the “StayFocusd” plug-in (it’s a Google Chrome extension, but you can find similiar add-ons for other browsers, e.g. Firefox) and use its filters to block out all the pages that take away most of your time – in my case it was Facebook, all the news portals and websites, my favorite fun idle-time pages, such as 9gag, a few of my favorite blogs that have me hooked on reading easily, etc. The best idea is to use the “Nuclear Option,” which won’t allow you to access these websites at all for the time you set – e.g. for the next six hours. I currently block all these pages first thing in the morning, using the “Nuclear Option,” usually for five or six hours, which is enough time for to me to complete all the important things I have to complete each day. Afterwards, once you’re done with your main daily focus, there’s nothing wrong with spending a few minutes on 9gag or other websites, having a good laugh, but I also use StayFocusd plug-in to control all these time-wasters when I’m done working. You can use the option which allows you to spend a certain amount of time on these pages a day. I set Facebook, “laugh-websites,” news websites, etc., to a total of 35 minutes a day, combined altogether and I never felt sorry.
- You can also use the “Momentum” plug-in to create your to-do list every day. It will open as a new tab instead of your usual website each time you launch your internet browser, showing you a beautiful landscape, an inspiring quote and your “to do” list.
- Turn your ‘dumbphone’ to “silent” mode and hide it in your drawer, somewhere distant from your workplace, so you avoid doing the same things you would do on your computer on your mobile phone. No, your distant aunt and all the little kittens won’t die because of it and the world won’t collapse – trust me. You will feel better and won’t get distracted easily, that’s all.
- The feeling of inner strength, peace and pure energy you will be rewarded by your mind when you start your day being productive and going after your goals soon after you wake up beyond description – remember that poisoning your mind with all the Facebook/social media noise (mostly useless, distractive and exhausting in the long run, even if you adjusted your newsfeed to just show you valuable and interesting things), world and local news (mostly artificial problems and bullshit, making you feel bad), and other procrastination-encouraging/toxic stuff first thing in the morning will only take you down, make you feel weak and soft and will also give you the feeling that your brain is rotting from the inside. On the other hand, doing the things you need to be doing will make you feel fresh, focused and proud of yourself. It is as simple as that.
- After a few months (or often just a week or so) of this routine, your mind will start to re-wire and finally, not only will you no longer have a need to do these things in the morning, but you will feel naturally repelled from them at times, without help from any plug-ins at all. I normally spend no more than 30 minutes a day on Facebook and other time-wasters. Before I put this routine in place in my life, I was spending a few hours daily. My productivity, my ability to concentrate on anything I want, and my inner peace of mind skyrocketed.
3. Use an online timer to measure your REAL WORK and to gain some awareness
Have you ever experienced those days when you definitely spent too many hours in front of the computer just to realize that the amount of work you’ve completed is, in all reality, embarrassingly small or just not too impressive? I’ve had that way too often. We often can’t recognize the difference between being busy and being productive.
Many people, especially these who work from home, build their businesses or want to achieve more in their professional life/jobs, often forget that the goal is not to spend countless hours in front of your computer and get tired, but to get your crucial work done fast and efficiently and then . . . have a life!
Go for a walk, to the swimming pool, to the gym, spend time with your partner, friends or kids, read a good book, watch a movie, play with your pet, etc. If you have a “regular” nine to five job, that might not always be possible, but if you do all the things you have to do, first thing in the morning, it will eventually make you kill procrastination and feel much better and less anxious on a daily basis!
Here’s something that I’ve just recently discovered, which will really increase your awareness. Use a STOPWATCH to measure how much time you have really spent working. When I first started doing this, I discovered that on average, during eight or nine hours spent in front of the computer, I put in real work for about two to three hours maximum.
Initially, that was a brutal shock for me, but I learned a very valuable lesson. First of all, I found that I don’t have to spend so much time in front of the computer because I’m simply UNABLE to stay constantly focused for eight hours non-stop, especially every day. So I just started cutting the time spent in front of my PC, while doing anything to make the work much more effective. It resulted in freeing two to three extra hours a day (on average), so I can spend that time doing the things I love, while having more done than I would have while spending eight or ten hours a day in front of my computer, where about 50% to 60% of that time would be mindless browsing through pointless internet websites, moving icons on my desktop, getting pissed at myself because, “I can’t focus!” and telling myself “five minutes more and I’m back to work. . . ,” watching cats doing silly things and commenting on all the things I can’t change anyway.
- Here’s something I use: http://en.e-stopwatch.eu/ – Just hit “space” when you are about to start your work and it starts counting. Hit “space” again when you want to take a break.
- You can also try this one: http://stopwatch.onlineclock.net/
You simply need to start the timer when you start working and remember to turn it off when you start getting lazy and distracted, and the precious truth will be revealed. It might be painful, as often we tend to think we work much more than we really do (yeah, it’s hard to admit, even to yourself, that you are a lazy, easily-distracted bum).
It’s a great idea because:
- If you put in enough time of effective work, you will feel great about yourself. With time, the numbers shown on the stopwatch will make you happy. Knowing that you just spent four hours on effective work is infinitely better than knowing that you just spent nine hours in front of your computer, while really working
for . . . no idea how long (but the back pain . . . yeah, the back pain is strong today, and my sore eyes)!
- It will clearly and visually show you that one distraction usually leads to another (decreasing numbers), and you will know what makes your focus and mindfulness go away, while inviting in distraction and bad emotions.
- It shows you your usual attention span, which is extremely valuable information about yourself. My average attention span is about 25 to 30 minutes, so I figured my best rhythm is to work for 30 minutes, then have a 5 minute break (stretching, breathing techniques, a short walk), then getting back to work, refreshed.
Which brings us to another idea! Read on.
4. The Supreme Power of the “Pomodoro Technique” + Binaural Brainwaves combined.
As I said, the stopwatch idea made me clearly see that very rarely are we able to be stay focused for longer than 30 to 45 minutes non-stop, even if we meditate and lead healthy lifestyles. Here comes the “Pomodoro technique:” The idea I pretty much laid out in the previous paragraph – work as long as your attention span allows you to (on average 25 to 45 minutes nonstop, use stopwatch to figure that out), then take a short break, then go back to work. But here’s how to make it even more effective: Use YouTube to find brainwaves of that desired length. Not only will they make your work time much more efficient, but they will also free your mind from constantly thinking “is it 30 minutes yet?”
So, you just work as long as the brainwaves are played in your headphones. Remember to use at least moderately decent and comfortable full headphones, not the tiny crap that penetrates your ears. Here are the brainwaves I usually use:
The combination of adjusting the rhythm of your work to your average attention span plus listening to brainwaves (apart from doing wonders to your focus, they also protect you from any outside noise and don’t distract you, like many musical genres would) is REALLY powerful and will surely boost your ability to concentrate and your productivity through the roof!
5. Dress Like You Would Dress To Go To Work
This paragraph is especially for freelancers, businessmen, IT guys and other people working from home. When I first quit my job and started building my business, I would often wake up, take a shower and then continue sitting in front of my computer in pajamas or sweatpants, because that is what was comfortable. However, as it turns out, it’s a bad idea. I soon discovered that it makes me feel lazy and unproductive, like my day hasn’t really started. So – I’m not saying you should wear a three-piece suit and a tie when you work from home, but at least wear a decent pair of jeans and a fresh T-shirt (not the one you slept in)! A nice fragrance you would normally use when going out won’t hurt either! It’s about making your mind think, “OK, buddy, it’s time to begin! Let’s start the new day and let’s rock!”
Believe me, you will avoid many distractions just by doing so.
6. Plan Your Day First Thing in the Morning
. . . But JUST THREE GOALS and ON A PIECE OF PAPER (listen to me and don’t talk back)!
In my experience, 99% of the online or digital-organizing, goal-planning, taking notes, making mind-maps software and apps simply DON’T WORK. Not in the long run. Why? Because our brains are not used to the technology yet, and we simply hardwire ourselves much more effectively when we just use our hands to move a pen on a piece of paper. You don’t need anything fancy like complex software anyway, so keep it Zen and Minimalistic.
- Take a piece of paper.
- Take a pen.
- Write out the three most important things you want to accomplish today (it can be less, but no more than three)!
- Do them and cross them out once completed.
- Smile with satisfaction once completed.
Why not more than three? It’s usually unrealistic to complete more than three big or medium-sized tasks a day if you want to do quality work. So focus on them first thing in the morning and then, if you still have time, you can proceed with less important things, checking e-mails and related stuff.
7. Keep a Record of “What I have accomplished today”
Sometimes I am so busy that by the end of the day I can’t even remember what I have accomplished, not to mention the following day. So here’s the deal: Keep a record (yes, you can do it on your computer, you have Uncle’s Ian’s permission) of the things you have accomplished each day. Make it a new habit each evening. Simply write out all the things you wanted to accomplish and have accomplished. Such a log serves as a great memorial to your everyday glory and hard work, of your journey, and also as a “pat on the back” on bad, dark days, when you might not have accomplished as much as usual. I noticed that I feel much more motivated and energized every day when I do this. The feeling and the kick you get when you read your “What I have accomplished today” log at the end of each month is impossible to describe. Start today! It’s totally worth it!
That’s it for today, friends!
If this post provided value to you, gave you any new ideas, or maybe you just want to share with me your own ways to stay mindful and productive during the day – please share in the comments!
I’d love to hear from you! It’s really important to me to get to know my readers 🙂