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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 May 7, 2021

Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

I have been an early-riser for over a year now. Monday through Friday I wake up at 5:00 AM without hitting the snooze button even once. I never take naps and rarely feel tired throughout the day. The following is my advice on how to start your day (everyday) at 5:00 AM.The idea of waking up early and starting the day at or before the sunrise is the desire of many people. Many highly successful people attribute their success, at least in part, to rising early. Early-risers have more productive mornings, get more done, and report less stress on average than “late-risers.” However, for the unaccustomed, the task of waking up at 5:00 AM can seem extremely daunting. This article will present five tips about how to physically wake up at 5:00 AM and how to get yourself mentally ready to have a productive day.

Many people simply “can’t” get up early because they are stuck in a routine. Whether this is getting to bed unnecessarily late, snoozing repetitively, or waiting until the absolute last possible moment before getting out of bed, “sleeping in” can easily consume your entire morning. The following tips will let you break the “sleeping in” routine.

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Relocate your alarm clock.

Having an alarm clock too close to your bed is the number one reason people simply cannot get up in the morning. If your alarm clock is within arms reach of your bed, or if you can turn your alarm clock off without getting out of bed, you are creating an unnecessarily difficult situation for yourself. Before I became an early-riser, there were many times that I would turn off my alarm without even waking up enough to remember turning it off. I recommend moving your alarm clock far enough away from your bed that you have to get completely out of bed to turn it off. I keep my alarm clock in the bathroom. This may not be possible for all living arrangements, however, I use my cellphone as an alarm clock and putting it in the bathroom makes perfect sense. In order to turn off my alarm I have to get completely out of bed, and since going to the restroom and taking a shower are the first two things I do everyday, keeping the alarm clock in the bathroom streamlines the start of my morning.

Scrap the snooze.

The snooze feature on all modern alarm clocks serves absolutely no constructive purpose. Don’t even try the “it helps me slowly wake up” lie. I recommend buying an alarm that does not have a snooze button. If you can’t find an alarm without a snooze button, never read the instructions so you will never know how long your snooze button lasts. Not knowing whether it waits 10 minutes or 60 minutes should be enough of a deterrent to get you to stop using it.

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Change up your buzzer

If you use the same buzzer day in and day out, you begin to develop a tolerance to the sound. The alarm clock will slowly become less effective at waking you up over time. Most newer alarm clocks will let you set a different buzzer tone for the different days of the week. If you change your buzzer frequently, you will have an easier time waking up.

Make a puzzle

If you absolutely cannot wake up without repetitive snoozing, try making a puzzle for yourself. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the longer your alarm is going off, the more awake you will become. Try making your alarm very difficult to turn off by putting it under the sink, putting it under the bed, or better yet, by forcing yourself to complete a puzzle to turn it off. Try putting your alarm into a combination-locked box and make yourself put in the combination in order to turn off the alarm — it’s annoying, but extremely effective!

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Get into a routine

Getting up at 5:00 AM is much easier if you are doing it Monday through Friday rather than sporadically during the week. I recommend setting an alarm once that repeats everyday. Also, going to bed at about the same time every night is an important factor to having a productive morning. Learn how much sleep you need to get in order to not feel exhausted the following day. Some people can get by on 4-6 hours while most need 7-8.

Have a reason

Make sure you have a specific reason to get up in the morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM just for the heck of it is a lot more difficult than if you are getting up early to plan your day, pay bills, go for a jog, get an early start on work, etc. I recommend finding something you want to do for yourself in the morning. It will be a lot easier to get up if you are guaranteed to do something fun for yourself — compare this to going on vacation. You probably have no problem waking up very early on vacation or during holidays. My goal every morning is to bring that excitement to the day by doing something fun for myself.

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As I previously mentioned, I have been using these tips for a very long time. Joining the world of early-risers has been a great decision. I feel less stressed, I get more done, and I feel happier than I did when I was a late-riser. If you follow these tips you can become an early-riser, too. Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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