Finding focus at work does more than boost productivity. The most focused workers also tend to be the happiest in their professional lives. Here are 10 ways that you can rein in your wandering mind for an extra dose of workplace contentment.
Once a year, I do something really strange. I leave my house, family and work to join four other women in a cabin in the woods to do nothing but remain quiet for 48 hours. We set our minds on focus: hearing the birds sing, experiencing the taste of hot coffee and enjoying the sensation of falling asleep. We call this odd exercise a Quiet Retreat, and I can't say enough how good it is for my happiness. I return home feeling refreshed and revived, and all because I turned off my wandering mind to focus on the present.
Boosting professional happiness through focus
What's going on here? In a fascinating study, Harvard researchers have unveiled that the extent to which your mind wanders to tasks and events outside of this very moment is highly correlated to unhappiness. As in, it's really hard to be very happy if you can't focus on what's occurring right now. This is true for both personal and professional lives, but the amount of career-related unhappiness in the world means that focus at work bears special attention. That's right, folks: The more you daydream about the future while manipulating spreadsheets, the more you think about an argument with your spouse while running a meeting and the more you wish your summer vacation could rescue you from tomorrow's board report, the unhappier you will be at work. Bummer, since over 45 percent of people experience mind-wandering in every single work-related task.
The good news, of course, is that seemingly-carefree daydreamers may not actually be all that happy. Reining in your focus so that you pay close attention to your work is what actually stands a chance of boosting your professional happiness.
The best ways to find focus in your work
According to Michelle Kerrigan at Business Insider, finding focus in your work and life doesn't have to be all that hard. It just requires discipline. Here are her tips for finding focus so you can gain a sense of accomplishment and happiness in your professional life.
- Stay away from multi-tasking. No one is very good at it anyway, and it tends to make the mind race. Just tackle one work task at a time so you don't feel pulled in a million directions.
- Use a to-do list. Putting pen to paper and getting your racing thoughts into a to-do list is a surefire way to avoid mind-wandering. Thoughts have a way of getting bogged down in the brain unless they have an outlet like a to-do list.
- Employ a task calendar. Why do today what you've put on your calendar to do tomorrow? As long as your tasks are in a calendar, you can feel free to focus on your present responsibilities without worrying that you'll somehow forget what to do next.
- Only complete the important things. It's so important to prioritize, and then stick to your priorities. Organize your to-do list by priority so it's clear what to focus on first.
- Use spurts to your advantage. Anyone can focus for 15 minutes at a time, so that's a great place to start. You'll be surprised at how much you can accomplish with 15 minutes of intent focus. Once you get the hang of it, increase the length of your spurts so you can knock out a lot of work in one sitting.
- Turn off interruptions. Phones, emails and even your chattering cubicle-mate can destroy focus. If you're working in a 15-minute spurt, turn off your phone, disable your email and tell the chatterbox to cool it until you're done.
- Defer the things that can wait. Frankly, almost everything can wait. Let's say it's 4 p.m. and you've powered through the five most important priorities on your to-do list. Everything else isn't due until later this week. Give yourself a pat on the back and call it a day.
- Give yourself breaks. If you tend to get lost on Facebook for two hours when completing a report, stop it. Instead, reward yourself with a 10-minute break once you complete a 15- or 30-minute spurt of work. Reward systems are powerful for creating focus.
- Control yourself. Quite often, internal dialogue and questions can derail focus. If your mind tends to wander because you fear forgetting an important thought, keep a pen and paper beside you so you can jot down your thought to address later.
- Limit your devices. Turn off your phone at night. You'll feel more refreshed to focus on work the following day if your brain gets a break from work every now and then.
Tell us: How do you find focus?
More from Living
10 Ways to lose the job before you're hired
Time for a vacation: Boost your career by having a life
Mom finds gratitude through childhood leukemia