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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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Matt OKeefe

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

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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    Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

    The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

    But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

    However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

    This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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    Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

    We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

    Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

    Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

    The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

    When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

    When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

    How to Make Decision Effectively

    Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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    1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

    You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

    Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

    Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

    2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

    You don’t have to choose all the time.

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

    Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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    3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

    You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

    The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

    Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

    Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

    So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

    More Tips About Decision Making

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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