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Published on April 7, 2021

10 Simple Hacks To Get Rid Of Absent-Mindedness

10 Simple Hacks To Get Rid Of Absent-Mindedness
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If you are feeling increasingly absent-minded these days, don’t panic. You’re far from alone, and entertaining fears that your mind is going will only heighten your anxiety and make things worse.[1]

The Covid-19 pandemic has done a number on everyone’s ability to focus. In the period spanning February through April of 2020, there was a 300% increase in the number of people going online to search for “how to get your brain to focus.”[2] If you’re among this horde of absent-minded people, your best first step might be to cut yourself some slack for not having it all together.

After accepting that everyone’s productivity is taking a hit, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to scrutinize your memory lapses. If you can begin a written journal of “incidents”—without plunging into despair—then do so. In that same journal, list any memory-improving tips you try, along with your perceptions of improvement over time.

To get you started, here are 10 simple hacks to banish absent-mindedness.

1. Eat Right

We’ve known for decades that foods with unhealthy levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol are bad for the heart. More recently, researchers at Harvard uncovered evidence that LDL cholesterol is bad for the brain as well.[3] LDL-saturated diets have been linked to the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, the same protein clusters that cause the brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s.

To counter this possibility, adjust your diet to include more mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains, and olive oil are all good sources of unsaturated fat.

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2. Exercise

According to the Mayo Clinic, research suggests a strong link between regular exercise and brain health.[4] Working out not only boosts blood flow but can also reverse the reduction in brain size that naturally occurs as we age.

While some remain skeptical of a direct causal link between exercise and brain health, the obvious benefits of regular exercise—increased physical health, elevated sense of well-being, etc.—are beyond dispute. For starters, exercise can help you better handle stress, so you’re more likely to keep those temporarily misplaced car keys in perspective. If studies continue to show that exercise improves cognition and memory, well, so much the better.

3. Cut Back on Alcohol and Caffeine

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional cocktail or cup of coffee, anxious times tend to cause our consumption of alcohol and caffeine to increase. A January 2021 Newsweek article reported that as a percentage of grocery bills, alcohol sales rose 686.9 percent in a two-month period last year.[5]

While you may initially resist any call to delay “wine o’clock,” this is another area where journaling can be your best friend. Commit to tracking your alcohol consumption as an experiment. You’ll be able to correlate those efforts with any noticeable improvements in memory performance in the weeks to come.

4. Read

There is a world of difference between doomscrolling Twitter and sitting by the fireplace with a hardcover edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

At least one vital distinction between these two forms of reading lies in how the brain reacts as it processes information. Hits of norepinephrine released by browsing social media keep your brain in an unhealthy state of fight-or-flight arousal. Time spent on a good novel, on the other hand, engages the imagination.

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Screens are great for instant access to information, but they’re lousy for relaxing and recharging. Go ahead, invest in a real book made from paper. They’re still around.

5. Converse

In the era of texting, making good conversation is a skill that is rapidly declining, even as it’s been shown to increase empathy and give our brains a workout.[6] So, make a habit of engaging in face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) conversation at least a few times each week.

If you’ve been classified as high risk for Covid-19, a videoconference call might do the trick, but calling in person is better. In person, we pick up on signals we often miss online.

6. Play Games

In addition to giving yourself a much-needed mental health break, games tend to sharpen brain skills.[7] These include processing speed, decision making, response time, planning, and strategizing.

If your goal is reducing absent-mindedness, then be choosy about which games to play. Video games often—though not always—excite the brain’s amygdala and threaten to overwhelm. Something more traditional could be a better choice. Card games, chess, and strategy board games can be a lot of fun and recharge your brain at the same time.

7. Make Use of Strategic Visual Cues

One proven way to reduce your frustration over absent-mindedness is to “cheat” by sidestepping the problem entirely. If a friend has asked to borrow one of your novels, throw the book onto the passenger seat of your car the night before you head to her house. The idea is to “booby-trap” your life so that you almost literally trip over visual cues as you go about your day.

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To make this tactic work, you need to act on your thoughts when they’re in the forefront of your mind. After you pour the last of the half-and-half into your morning coffee, don’t sit down to breakfast until you’ve jotted down the depleted dairy item on your shopping list.

Always be looking for ways to free yourself from the number of things swirling around inside your head. When you have fewer things to remember, you’ll be able to place your focus where it’s needed at any given moment.

8. Sleep

Few things will contribute to improving absent-mindedness more than a good night’s sleep. Our brains need rest to process information and turn it into memory.[8] When we deprive ourselves of sleep so that we can get more things accomplished, we are adding gasoline to the memory-loss fire.

While your brain can bounce back from an occasional all-nighter, an ongoing pattern of inadequate sleep will cause more problems than it solves. If you are having consistent problems with sleep, start journaling your experiences. Identifying insomnia triggers will help you take steps to improve your sleep hygiene over time or at least have a more informed conversation with your doctor.

9. Soak Up Some Sun

Time in the sun has been linked to the release of serotonin in the brain. That’s a good thing, as researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that reduced levels of serotonin transporters in study subjects who exhibited mild cognitive decline and memory loss.[9]

While its impact on absent-mindedness isn’t fully established, serotonin is known to have a positive impact on a person’s mood, relaxation response, and ability to focus. So, start treating sunshine as a valuable commodity. Location, time of day, and skin tone will affect how much exposure to sunshine works for you, but it’s worth upping your daily dose.

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10. Get the Help You Need

It’s a mistake to underestimate the impact the past 12 months have had on our mental health. No matter your age, the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns put tremendous pressure on everyone. Many of us were so preoccupied with our safety that we had to make several mental adjustments just to get through the day.

If you suffered the loss of a loved one, you’ve piled grief on top of information overload and fear. You need sympathetic ears, so be intentional about getting in touch with close friends. You might even consider a few counseling sessions until you feel you are back on solid ground.

Final Thoughts

Human beings are infinitely complex, and despite all of the advances in neuroscience, the inner workings of the brain are still somewhat mysterious. What works for one person may or may not work for another, and that’s okay.

As you battle your absent-mindedness, keep your journal close at hand. Review your progress at least once a week and tweak your routines until you see improvement.

More Tips on How to Avoid Absent-Mindedness

Featured photo credit: Ellen Mi via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

How To Stay Motivated As You Build Your Business How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals How to Set Milestones to Progress Towards Your Goal The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work 10 Simple Hacks To Get Rid Of Absent-Mindedness

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Published on August 3, 2021

5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule

5 Simple Steps to Creating a Productive Daily Schedule
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These days, it’s harder than ever to focus on your daily tasks and stay productive. There’s just too much going on around us. Between endless social media notifications, mountains of emails, and the latest must-watch content on countless streaming media services, staying focused isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to maintain a productive daily schedule.

You might be shocked to find out that there are some simple tricks you can use to take back control of your day and get everything done. It all begins with organization. If you plan out your days in the right way—taking distractions into account in advance—you can eliminate some of the unexpected diversions that rob you of productivity.

Of course, you’ve got to commit yourself to following a schedule every day. And if you aren’t willing or able to do that, you can stop reading right here.

But if you are willing to learn what it takes to build a productive daily schedule, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to go over the five simple steps you can use to maximize your output, eliminate wasted time, and work at peak efficiency every day. If you’re ready to take back control of your day, let’s get started.

1. Discover Your Optimal Work Schedule

Before you can decide how to make the best possible use of your day, you need to understand how your physiology and personal work style play a role in your productivity.

For example, if you’re a morning person, it might be best for you to put your most important tasks right up front in your daily schedule. Conversely, it would be a disaster to leave those things for the end of the day.

But you can even go further than that.

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To discover your optimal work schedule, you must first collect some data. Start by tracking your work habits (whatever they currently are) for about two to three weeks. Make note of the times of the day when you get the most done, and log any external distractions that may be interfering in your work. The idea is to discover when you’re at your natural energy peak and filter out external factors working against you.

This accomplishes two things. First, it will help you to zero in on your most productive hours. Second, it will identify which distractions rob you of the most time. And once you know those two things, you will be in a much better position to build a schedule that maximizes your productivity.

2. Block Off Your Productive Time

After you’ve figured out what times of day are the most productive for you, the next step in creating your new schedule is to block off that time and reserve it for your most important work—and by blocking it off, I mean you have to arrange for those times to be distraction-free and preserved completely for working.

If that means you have to configure your Wi-Fi to shut off during those hours to keep from falling down the internet rabbit hole, so be it. If you have to set an auto-responder in your email to let everyone know they’ll have to wait for a response at a later date, do it. If you’ve got to turn to a time-locking app to prevent you from taking too many smartphone breaks, that’s fine, too.

In short, you need to create an environment where you can concentrate on the tasks at hand and see to it that you only have the tools you need to complete those tasks. Then, you can schedule your most important work each day into those time slots and you can be reasonably sure you’ll get all of it done.

If you think that’s extreme, let me assure you, it isn’t—and I can demonstrate why.

Just look at the repeated studies that indicate that the average worker is only productive for about three hours per day.[1] Now, go ahead and look back at your data from step one. I’d wager that you came up with average daily productivity that’s somewhere close to that number.

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If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading an article looking for the path to a more productive schedule. You’d be writing one, instead.

In any case, you should now understand why it’s so critical to jealously guard your most productive time in this way. By maximizing what you get done in those hours, you’re maximizing your total output. It’s that simple.

3. Schedule Appropriate Break Times

There is one thing—and one thing only—that you should allow to interrupt your most productive time: periodic breaks. As strange as it might sound, we tend to be most productive when we work in sprints. And even stranger, statistical analysis reveals that the ideal length of each work sprint is 52 minutes, followed by a 17-minute break.[2]

Yes, you read that right. And yes, this means you should allocate almost an hour of your standard 8-hour workday to doing non-work-related tasks. It will allow you to focus better during your work sprints and help you get more done. So, you don’t even have to feel guilty about it!

The best part is that this also holds during your less productive hours. That means you won’t be wasting the time before and after your peak productivity hours. And while you won’t be at peak efficiency, you’ll still get more done than you once did.

Before we move on, you might be wondering: isn’t this just the Pomodoro Technique by another name? The answer is—sort of.

That particular technique calls for working in shorter sprints—25 minutes, in fact—with even shorter breaks in between them. While it may boost productivity as well, it’s also quite difficult to build a schedule around. The reason for that is obvious: most peoples’ workdays include things like mandatory meetings and check-ins that last longer than 25 minutes (whether your schedule should include these is another matter we’ll get to momentarily). That means you’ll be trying to carve up your time in a way that can’t help but become inefficient.

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With a sprint time closer to a full hour, your options increase. You can cluster your 15-minute and half-hour meetings together to get them out of the way during one of your less productive hours and cluster your task-filled sprints together in your most productive periods. And once you get a handle on how long your average task length is, you’ll come to see why this works out well compared to the Pomodoro approach.

4. Schedule Availabilities in the Shortest Possible Windows

The trouble with what we’ve covered so far is that you won’t be working in a vacuum. That means co-workers, family members, and even phone scammers are going to do everything they can to interrupt your days and harm your productivity. They don’t mean to do it—except the phone scammers, of course—but the effect is the same either way.

To accommodate this, you’re going to have to schedule time in your day to deal with things like phone calls, face-to-face conversations, and email correspondence. But there are two tricks that can help you tame all of those time-draining tasks and keep them from overwhelming your day.

The first is to set aside specific times to handle such tasks and to let everyone around you know that you won’t be available at any other time. By doing this, you’re pre-empting many of the distractions that you’d otherwise have to deal with. If you warn others about your availability times in advance, you don’t have to feel bad about ignoring calls and emails as they come in—or sending them straight to voicemail or an auto-reply.

But none of that will stop people from making demands on your time, anyway. After all, you can’t eliminate every meeting from your schedule—even though there’s strong evidence to suggest you should try.[3] But what you can do is change the default conditions of those meeting requests.

To wit: if you have a calendar system where people can request meetings with you, try lowering the default meeting time in that system. This is possible in Google Calendar as well as in Microsoft Outlook, and likely other scheduling apps, too. Change your default to the shortest time that makes sense for your specific needs. For Elon Musk, this translates into 5-minute windows.[4] For the rest of us, something like ten or fifteen minutes should suffice.

The reason this works is that it forces people requesting your time to ask for more of it, instead of consuming it by default. And guess what? You’ll likely find that most people either won’t bother to ask or even notice that you’ve shortened your availability windows. That’s an instant time-saver for you.

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5. Avoid Multitasking at all Costs

Even though you may believe yourself to be an all-star multitasker, I have bad news for you—you’re not. Nobody is. Multiple studies have proven this again and again.[5] And the more you try to do it, the less efficient you’ll become. And you’re also likely to increase the number of errors you make in your work and have to waste even more time cleaning up your own mess.

From a daily scheduling perspective, the takeaway here is obvious. It’s that you should try to find a place in your schedule for every single necessary task you’re aware of, and try to avoid the temptation to squeeze unscheduled tasks into the mix. But you can do even better than that.

If you examine the reason that we humans are so bad at multitasking, you’ll find that it’s because our brains struggle to navigate switching between different types of tasks. This creates an effect that researchers call a switching cost, which means we unconsciously waste time fumbling to adapt to each new task. In other words, trying to complete two tasks at the same time will always take longer than doing them in succession.

You can use this knowledge to your advantage by scheduling similar tasks back-to-back in your individual work sprints. When you do, you’ll find that you’ll get more things done in each time window and waste much less time. When you add that time savings up over the course of a day, it’s a bigger deal than you think. Research indicates that switching costs rob us of up to 40% of our productivity, so reorganizing your task list in this way might almost double your productivity.[6]

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, then you should now know how to build yourself a daily schedule that maximizes your productivity. And if you can manage to stick to that schedule even as the world around you tries its best to get in your way, you’ll have a major advantage over your peers.

Just try not to gloat when you wrap up your work early and get back to your life while everyone else struggles to keep up. Instead, you should offer them your help with getting their schedules under control. They’ll be certain to appreciate some tips from an acknowledged expert.

More Tips on Daily Planning

Featured photo credit: Eric Rothermel via unsplash.com

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Reference

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