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Last Updated on June 3, 2019

How to Live in the Present and Make Your Time Count

How to Live in the Present and Make Your Time Count

When you woke up this morning, you had a whole day ahead of you. And, when you go to bed, that same day will have passed.

This is just how time works, isn’t it? You’re losing time every second; and try as you may, you can never turn the clock back.

Time is such a precious and limited resource, yet often we neglect or abuse it, thinking that there’s still time left. We’re sometimes so focused on the wrong priorities that we end up spending our precious time on things that won’t matter in the long run. And, we may not be spending enough time on the things that do matter.

Have you ever reflected on how you’re spending your waking moments?

Maybe you could use more time in the day to get more work done. Or perhaps you crave spending more time with your family, but always feel overwhelmed with everything on your plate. You might have always wanted to start a hobby, or try something new, but never had the time to because of existing responsibilities.

Well, if you don’t start now… will you ever? Ask yourself, ‘am I really living my best life?’ 

Below are a few techniques to help you be more aware of your time spent, and how to truly make every second count.

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Be Mindful of the Present

Mindfulness can sometimes be a vague term. People often try to be mindful, or in the present, when on holidays, or when spending time with their loved ones. But, what does it really mean to be mindful of the present?

Well, it simply means to bring awareness to what you’re doing. It’s a practice that trains your brain to be more efficient and better integrated with your surroundings, so you’re less distracted and more focused. It also helps to minimize stress and allows you to become your best self.

So how can you practice mindfulness?

It need not take up any of your free time. You can practice mindfulness during routine activities such as when you’re brushing your teeth, taking a shower, eating breakfast or walking to work. Zoom in on the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings of these activities that you would otherwise be doing on auto-pilot.

A good time to practice is first thing in the morning when you wake up, as it helps set the ‘tone’ of your nervous system for the rest of the day, increasing the likelihood of other mindful moments.

One thing to note is that when you’re practicing mindfulness, it’s okay to let your mind wander. You don’t always need to be aware, as the act of noticing that your mind has wandered, and then bringing it back to awareness is in itself beneficial.

Our brains respond better to bursts of mindfulness, so it’s better to be mindful several times a day, rather than a lengthy one hour session, or even going to weekend retreats. For example, you could focus on how your feet feel in those shoes as you’re walking to work, or how your throat and tongue feels when you’re sipping on your morning coffee. These only take mere minutes of awareness.

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Lastly, the best way to cultivate mindfulness in everyday life is to train yourself to meditate. Practicing meditation is learning the language of being present, and helps us tap into mindfulness with little effort.

Appreciate the Here and Now

Besides practicing mindfulness, it’s also beneficial to appreciate what you have in your life at this very moment.

Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s a fun project or a mundane task, appreciate every moment of it, and make an effort to find the enjoyable aspects within it. For example, when walking to your car or to work, really feel the sensations of the pavement on your feet, the breeze in the air, the sights around you.

Anything can be enjoyable if you train yourself to see it that way. This can also be applied to doing laundry, washing dishes, or filing taxes!

You don’t need to only be grateful for the big things in life like money or material possessions. It’s the little things in life that if you can appreciate and find meaning in, you’re one step closer to truly living in the moment.

Stop Multitasking

Now this is a controversial one. It used to be that if you could multitask, you were seen as being more efficient and getting more done in less time. However these days, most productivity gurus would agree that multitasking is not the way to go about with efficiency. Shocked?

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Well, the simple explanation is that when you multitask, your concentration or attention is being split with the number of things you’re trying to get done. As a result, you’re actually less focused on each task which results in lower productivity, and likely more time needed or lower quality results.

So as much as you want to save time, it’s better to focus on one task at a time. When you feel the urge to switch to other tasks, pause, breathe, and pull yourself back into the single task you are currently focusing on.

Be Fully Present When Around Others

Often, when we spend time with others, we’re not really there with them. Physically, we may be present, but a lot of times we’re distracted by our phones or other devices. If not these, we might be distracted in our minds–thinking about the errands we need to run, or the email we need to reply to, or the dinner plans that we have the next evening.

Other times we may listen, but we’re actually thinking about ourselves and what we want to say to the person. This is all pretty common human behavior that most of us are guilty of, but the good news is that with effort, you can shut off the outside world and just be present with the people you’re spending time with.

This is a more effective use of your time and helps you connect with people rather than just being in the presence of them. Most people appreciate a deeper connection, especially with those whom they value, so really take time to make that happen.

Take Smartphone Breaks

Now, this is a common tip of which you’re probably familiar. But, it’s also really helpful– especially when you’re finding yourself constantly distracted at work, or at home while trying to relax.

It’s useful to disconnect from your phone so that you can focus on other things. The advantage to being connected all the time, of course, is that you have constant and immediate access to news, information, and alerts. But, the downside of that is also that it means you’re at the mercy of those incoming demands and alerts. You become accustomed to immediate responses, sometimes at the expense of other experiences.

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Professor Leslie Parlow of Harvard Business School found in a study that of 1,600 managers and professionals, 70% said they check their phones within an hour of waking up; 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep; 51% check their phone continuously during vacation; and 44% said they would experience ‘a great deal of anxiety’ if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week.[1]

You may argue that you’re not spending your time playing games or going on Facebook, but instead doing something more valuable. But, it’s not what you’re doing that matters as much as the time you lose when you switch back to a task.

When distracted by your phone, and acted upon, it takes up to 23 minutes to get back to the level of concentration where you left off before the interruption. So, if you let your phone interrupt you every 10 minutes, think about how much time and resources you’ve lost in a day?

Don’t Rush Through Life

At the end of the day, we all have a limited amount of time on earth, so we should strive to make the most of it.

That doesn’t mean we should be rushing and trying to do everything at once, so that we forget to smell the roses, be present with our loved ones and appreciate the little things in life.

It’s more important to know that the time you’re spending is spent meaningfully, and that you’re prioritizing the right things. If you haven’t been living in the present, the time is now!

Start practicing some of the tips I’ve shared above and watch your life transform slowly, as you move towards making every second count.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

More Resources About Boosting Focus and Productivity

Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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