3 mindfulness tips to boost focus at work
Super busy, forever being interrupted by streams of emails, phone calls and messages? Feel like your brain is pinging with a zillion thoughts and to-do lists?
It’s a familiar complaint. The problem with this wonderful technology-filled world of ours is that we’re surrounded by an ever-increasing number of devices and people demanding more and more of our attention. It is important to remember that our brains evolved to take in information and problem-solve it, essentially to keep us alive. This means, not matter how full of information it is, our brain will be hungry to take in more and more. The cost of all this is that our attention is being fractured into tinier and tinier pieces. And this makes it pretty hard to simply focus. When was the last time you truly focussed on just one task/email/conversation at a time? We thought so. The research tells us that multitasking just doesn’t work, we take longer to do things and it stresses us out. This is making it harder and harder for us to be the effective, efficient beings we all aspire to be.
But there is an answer! Mindfulness has become a go-to fix to help us manage our increasingly busy lives and the good news is that the science backs up the trend. Research has shown how mindfulness practice can change areas of the brain associated with improved cognitive functioning and the ability to regulate emotions.
In one study, after only 11 hours of mindfulness practice, structural changes were observed in participants’ brains around the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain involved in monitoring our focus and self-control. Something we could all do with a bit more of.
The idea of mindfulness is to focus your attention in a particular way (on purpose, with openness), zooming in on your present moment experience, wherever you are, whatever you may be doing. The more you do this, the more you train your mind in staying present and increase the likelihood of not being pulled off task by a million and one inevitable distractions. And you can practise it anytime, anywhere – at your desk, on your commute, eating your favourite sandwich…
Here are a few mindfulness exercises you can try whenever your mind is in overdrive that will help you focus your attention. Take a minute out to practise them and, when you return to the task in hand, you’ll find it easier to focus, we promise!
Take a minute to SLOW down
S Stop whatever you are doing and bring your awareness to your breathing.
L Let thoughts, opinions, judgements and urges be.
O Open up your heart, body and mind to what you are feeling.
W Where is most important for you to put your attention right now?
Anchor yourself in the present moment and connect with your breathing
Drop into noticing your breath right here, right now. No need to change your breathing in any way. Just notice it, its natural rhythm and sensations. Notice the sensation of cool air at your nostrils as you breathe in and slightly warmer breath as you breathe out. There it is – your breath, with its natural rhythm and sensations, in this moment. Ride the waves of your breathing with your full attention. No matter how many times your attention may wander from your breath, just gently guide your attention back to noticing your breathing.
Take a few moments to get some clarity
Imagine you are standing at the side of a busy road and that your thoughts are all cars whizzing past. For a few minutes try to notice the cars going by. If at any moment you become lost in your thoughts, come back to the side of the road again observing the cars (thoughts) go by. No need to push your thoughts away, just allow them to come and go in their own good time.
Like any skill, mindfulness takes regular practice. Try playing around with these practices and over time you too can reap the many rewards that mindfulness has to offer.