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Fed Up with Your Wandering Mind?

Fed Up with Your Wandering Mind?

Are you a victim of a wandering mind? That’s not always a bad thing; a lot of brilliant ideas only reach our heads when they’re up in the clouds. But in the workplace, where efficiency is high priority, a wandering mind is usually unacceptable. Having a wandering mind is an entirely normal problem. Researcher Jonathan Smallwood populated the term, one of the first to study lapses of external attention in participants. He, rather effectively by research standards, demonstrated how frequent the mind wanders with SART (sustained attention to response) tasks. However, just because a wandering mind is common doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be avoided if possible. With that in mind, here are five practical ways to make your wandering mind focus.

1. Keep a record of your wandering mind

Just like a to-do app will help you finish all your daily tasks, just like a grocery list will ensure that you don’t forget the milk, so a record of your attentiveness can help cure your wandering mind. This may seem a little tedious, but set a timer to go off every half-hour you’re at work. When it rings, mark how focused you were based on a scale of your choosing. After a few days of diligent note-taking you’ll have enough data to to know when your wandering mind acts up, putting you on the path to take care of the intrusions that are impacting your workday.

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2. Settle unresolved issues

The most obvious way to temper a wandering mind is to remove the things that are distracting you. A lot might eat at us while we’re working, distracting us from the task at hand. If that’s the case for you, I encourage you to figure out what you can do to eliminate or at least lessen those distractions. That’s not always possible, of course, but take extra steps to have a peace of mind that you did all you could. If you’re waiting for an email, for example, consider shooting off a follow-up so it’s not so much on your mind.

3. Do low-energy activities at peak productivity hours

At the times when your wandering time most acts up, do activities that require your full engagement. Mind-wandering occurs when vigilance is low, so when you’re prone to a wandering mind be vigilant. A lot of productivity experts will tell you to schedule your most labor-inductive tasks at peak productivity hours like the beginning and end of each day, but that isn’t necessarily the best option for someone with a wandering mind. Rather, do low brain power tasks at times when your wandering mind isn’t acting up so that you’ll stay focused enough to do them, and do high brain power tasks at times when you would have otherwise zoned out.

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4. Carefully place gaps in your schedule

Your records might inform you that you have trouble focusing at times when you have an upcoming meeting, or just before lunch hour. Or your records might suggest that your wandering mind acts up most when you have too much time to kill. Based on your findings, adapt your schedule accordingly so that you have just the right amount of time between scheduled events so you accomplish the most possible.

5. Experiment with different methods

There is a whole host of productivity techniques out there for you to try, many of which were designed to compensate for a wandering mind. Try some of them out, see what fits your needs and before you know it you could be a productivity guru.

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6. Make habits

You should still be keeping a record of your wandering mind even after you’ve discerned the causes of it. Treat your inattention like a science experiment. Hypothesize ways to inhibit your wandering mind. Then, one variable at a time, change the way you approach your workday. When something works, mark it down and turn it into a habit. Over time you’ll accrue more and more good practices. You may never be distraction-free; no one is. But with this step and the others above, you’ll have a lot more control over your wandering mind.

Featured photo credit: Rennett Stowe via flickr.com

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More by this author

Matt OKeefe

Matt is a marketer and writer who shares about lifestyle and productivity tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on June 21, 2019

Announcing Our New Podcast: The Lifehack Show

Announcing Our New Podcast: The Lifehack Show

We’re very excited to announce the launch of our new podcast, The Lifehack Show!

In each episode, our host, Ally Kramer (Content Director of Lifehack), interviews experts from around the world as they share advice on how to break through limitations that can keep you from reaching your goals.

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She also taps into what makes these successful role models tick, and talks with them about their personal stories of overcoming obstacles and finding success on their own terms.

Our first guest is Annie Ridout, author of The Freelance Mum: A flexible career guide for better work–life balance. Along with being an author, Annie is also the editor of the digital parenting and lifestyle platform The Early Hour, and a freelance journalist for national news and women’s magazines, such as the Guardian, Forbes, Grazia, Red Magazine, Stylist, Metro, and the Telegraph. She also speaks on BBC radio and television, and runs online courses made especially for freelancers and entrepreneurs.

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In this episode Annie Ridout shares some wonderful insight on freelancing while also juggling the art of parenting.

Episode 1: Freelancing as a Stay at Home Parent

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Also available on Apple PodcastsRadio PublicBreaker, and Google Podcasts.

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