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.
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.
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.
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