As someone that struggles with concentration at work for mor… oh look! Shoes and online shopping and does my Spotify need changing? What was I saying?… Basically, my concentration pretty much sucks, and when it’s the end of the month and things need prioritising, struggling with concentration can lead to a vicious circle of putting things off because you can’t concentrate on them, then getting close to deadline, feeling anxious about it which makes concentrating worse. So how do we stop this cycle?
Firstly, there’s a little bit of mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a bit of a ‘thing’ in recent years. The NHS prescribe it and the principles of it are being taught at world renowned universities in their leadership programmes. In its simplest form, mindfulness is just a better, or more compelling word for awareness. Yes, I really am about to write a post full of spiritual clichés, but bear with me.
On a day to day basis, there are things that I try to put into practise which helps me to improve my concentration at work and remember to do the pressing things I need to do. So, back to mindfulness.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that is guilty of sitting at my desk with the best intentions to finish something and 30 seconds later I’m wondering if Octopuses are classed as fish or not… just me? Ok. My point is, that letting your mind wander is a choice and more importantly – a habit. It takes quite a lot of willpower for me to stop my mind wandering, I have to really practise at it. Mindfulness comes in handy when I’m letting this happen. It’s about stopping your thought pattern in its tracks and bringing your mind back to the task at hand, making yourself more aware of what is actually happening in that moment. For people that struggle to concentrate, more often than not I think we find ourselves completing tasks on autopilot whilst our mind is actually elsewhere. Being more present will ultimately improve the quality of our work – I say yes to that.
My tips for practising mindfulness at work
Take some time to declutter
If you find your mind feels cluttered, step outside your office for a minute or two. We’re lucky enough at Boom Online to have a quiet room so I sometimes go and sit in there just to regroup. But if you don’t have a designated quiet area, going and sitting in the bathroom can work just as well, go outside for some fresh air – taking 5 minutes to relax your mind and bring your attention to what’s going on in the present moment is more valuable to you and your work than just trying to sit at your desk and get through it.
When you’ve found your quiet place, a simple 1-5 minute meditation is an underrated tool. Focus on your breath and when you’ve finished, you’ll be surprised at how much clearer things seem. You’ll be much better equipped at going and finishing the 998 things on your do to list!
Refocus your attention
If you notice yourself doing tasks on autopilot (which leads to careless mistakes), take a minute or so to bring your awareness back to the present moment. Notice things around you – what are your workmates doing? What does your coffee taste like? What’s the aim of the task you’re doing? I know it sounds ridiculous, but being aware of things around you and just having a minute to engage in your surroundings again brings your mind off autopilot and helps you engage and concentrate better on the task at hand.
Organisation & Routine
Mindfulness aside, there are some other little things I use at work that help if I’m feeling particularly like my brain has gone on a long holiday:
Post it notes
I have post it notes reminding me to look at lists I’ve made. Any thought I have, I try and write it down and I stick it in front of me, on my wall. Somewhere I can see it – or I forget it’s there. Even trivial things like ‘remember to wash your cup’, it gets stuck on a post it note.
Some people can concentrate with music, some can’t. It’s personal preference, but I have a ‘concentration’ playlist on Spotify that I’ve made myself full of hippy meditation music. There are playlists premade on Spotify that might help, but when I need to calmly concentrate on something, soothing music helps drown out my ridiculous thoughts of ‘I wonder how long it is before I can start planning Christmas again? (I reckon September FYI, 6 months to go – yay!)
Getting into a routine is basically my life saver. This one is more about memory than concentration – but I find that my terrible memory and concentration go hand in hand. If I’m not fully present, then when I get made aware I need to do things – they don’t stick in my mind. But forcing yourself into a routine will eventually help make things like remembering your keys and remembering to check emails a habit.
Firstly, stationery shopping is fun. Secondly: lists, post it notes, colour coding, diaries – all go a long way to organising yourself and remembering to do things. Find a way that work for you – if you need 4 notebooks for different things, and felt tip pens to write things down in colour coded section, who cares.
Be kinder to yourself
Ergh, how trite. But! Worrying that you’re not concentrating leads to… you guessed it – concentrating less because you’re worried. If you find yourself not concentrating or finding it hard to, don’t give yourself a hard time. You’ll be better off using that negative energy to have a 5-minute meditation and clear your mind. Worry Less: Do More.
And finally, concentrating isn’t just about what I can do at work (although this is a very big part of it) but there are things I noticed I could do at home that would improve my day, which ultimately leads to me being in a better frame of mind at work. And a better, more organised frame of mind = smashing it at work…
Get up earlier
I know right, tell me to go away. I’m the first to admit I am practically the human version of a koala. I need 18 hours sleep a day and when I’m not asleep, I like eating. However, getting up 15 minutes earlier leads to me not running late, leads to me not being stressed and worried that I’m late. (Ironically, I was late this morning, but my phone charger broke so…)
Getting up earlier gives yourself time to prepare for the day. Get up earlier, take a few minutes to meditate, have a calming up of tea and go through what you need to do in the day. You’ll get to work ready, prepared and already ahead of the game.
One for the girls
Soz guys, this may not apply to you, but for us girls, this may be an important one. Feeling like you look nice is an important part of your mental state. An improved mental state leads to me concentrating better. On a Sunday night, I’ve started putting out my clothes for the week. It means I’m not picking up creased clothes off the floor like a student, and dressing like I’m someone that actually knows what I’m doing. It’s just a small thing, but I think a lot of have the tendency to dress down if we feel a bit under the weather – so why dress like that when you want to be great at your job? It gives me more time in the morning to think about the day ahead rather than deciding what to wear.
So, if you can’t concentrate at work because life is happening, then buy some shoes and you’ll be instantly cured.
I joke of course, concentration and improved memory is something that happens when you take more time to relax, when you look after your mental health as well as your physical health and it takes practise and patience. Everyone will have days when they ‘slip up’ and forget and you’ve got less work done than a drunk llama, but you need to regroup and learn from it and take that new found understanding and apply it to tomorrow.