How to Stay Focused.
Strengthening your capacity to pay attention — and not mind-wander — helps you to accomplish tasks faster, respond more wisely, and can even make you happier.
Here’s how it works.
Research shows that the majority of us mind-wander 47% of the day, no matter what we’re doing, no matter what our age, no matter what our nationality. Usually our minds wander to self-reflective thoughts. Unfortunately, the majority of those thoughts are usually negative and are casually linked to our level of unhappiness.
The good news is you can train your brain to mind-wander less frequently, which means you can use your time more effectively, increase your productivity, and it will also make your happier.
Want to know how to do it? Meditate.
Train Your Brain with Meditation.
Set a timer for 10 minutes or use an app like 10% happier. Then find a comfortable, seated position. Focus your attention on where you feel the sensation of your breath the most. When you notice your mind has wandered, which it will, note your thoughts, and kindly return to the sensation of the breath in your body.
Overtime, this practice helps to improve your inhibitory control and increases your ability for sustain attention. It also allows you to notice when you’re diving into a negative fantasy, and choose to think more positive thoughts about yourself and whatever situation your mind has wandered into.
Set a Timer, Set a task.
It can also be helpful to set a specific time and task when trying to stay focused on certain projects. Essentially, the timer/task method is a helpful mental reminder to stay focused on the task at hand, and not allow yourself to wander into another task until the chosen priority is complete. That means not checking your email, responding to texts, checking Instagram, or even getting up to get a cup of coffee.
So, depending on the task, you might set a timer for 5, 10, 30, 45, or 90 minutes. The timer creates a sort of urgency to accomplish the task. Once the time is up, you can reward yourself with a 2-minute stretch, funny video, or quick text message to a friend. These short ‘sprints’ of sustained attention are much more effective than trying to focus on a single task for two or more hours. So, break big projects up into smaller tasks.
Pro Tip: Don’t spend all your time mapping out the increments ahead of time and make sure you don’t let your mind wander past your 2-minute reward!