Being present and “in the moment” at work and at home has been tied to better focus, increased productivity, and greater enjoyment of what’s in front of you. Unfortunately, especially with how action-packed and uncertain 2020 has been so far, many report finding themselves distracted while on the job — especially due to working remotely. There has been plenty going on all year long to stick our attention on things other than the work in front of us.
This begs the question — are there ways we can help ourselves stay present and focused?
The answer is a resounding yes! If you find yourself diving too far into an unhappy past or an uncertain future, here are some strategies to reorient yourself.
1. Get Rid of Your Extras (Minimalism)
There’s nothing wrong with having a few nice things that can give you pleasure once in a while. But extras — including technologies and all the alerts they offer — can be incredibly distracting and pull you away from other things you need to pay attention to. Try to limit the number of items around you and get into a minimalist environment that naturally directs your attention to what’s immediately in front of you.
2. Take Some Notes
Writing about what’s happening forces you to take deeper stock of what you are facing. There’s also research that suggests that writing notes longhand rather than digitally can aid memory retention. But your notes don’t have to follow any script or format. Prose, bulleting, lists — do whatever will help you slow down and process based on your own learning style, mood, and preferences.
3. Schedule Your Problem Solving
One of the biggest hurdles to staying in the present is the tendency to let your mind wander to other things you need to find solutions to — which usually leads only to dispersal and not actual solutions. These items can be minor, such as where you’ll go for lunch or an unfinished work task, or major, such as how to handle accelerated digital transformation for your company. By setting a specific time on your calendar to think about those topics, you give yourself permission to refocus on the here and now priorities, and you reassure yourself that those issues aren’t going to be ignored if you put attention on other things in the present.
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4. Let Timers Talk
Setting specific times to start an activity or coordinate with others can offer good structure for your day. But if you keep looking at the clock, then you might end up focusing more on what’s upcoming (e.g., “Five more minutes until x…”). This naturally draws you away from the task you’re working on and can create anxiety.
Instead, choose just a few key priorities for your day. Decide how long you’re going to work on the first item, set a timer, and then just focus on doing the activity with the best effort or quality you can. If the timer goes off before you’ve finished the job, either create another timed session for that job and bump your bottom priority to the next day, or just plan to come back to the job tomorrow and move on to the next item on the agenda. If you finish ahead of the alarm, either bump the next job up or just take a short break. Over time, you’ll get better at figuring out how long you’ll need to finish specific tasks so that the amount of minutes on the timer feels natural and sufficient, with the alert becoming just a gentle reminder to keep you on track.
5. Anchor Yourself in the Now (Make Observations)
One of the best ways to stay present-focused is to take a look, using all of your senses, at the environment around you. For example, what do you see or smell? You can also scan your body, focusing on specific limbs or organs from your head to your toes — their position, balance, the pressure your feet feel on the floor, and so on. This can include your emotions, since feelings and physical responses are connected (e.g., racing heart when you’re nervous). Include other people in your observations, too, such as noting the fact that the person you pass on the street is whistling or walking really fast. This is especially good for when you find yourself spiraling or panicking — if you feel overwhelmed and therefore unable to focus on the task right in front of you, then take a moment to anchor yourself in the now. As a decision and at your own speed, take hold of your tools in your hands, then when you feel like it, put them back. In the moment, inspect your office with a fresh pair of eyes and fingers, orient yourself to what is going on around you right now. By the end of it, you’ll usually feel calmer and more ready to get back to work.
6. Adopt a Stewardship Mindset
When you adopt a stewardship mindset, you become concerned with how you can protect, care for, or grow yourself, others, or assets. This forces you to make better observations and identify immediate needs and deficiencies. Additionally, when you are a steward, you accept responsibility for what happens. That extra sense of accountability can ground you and slow you down so that you focus better. It can also encourage you to find others to talk to. Having a conversation with and getting feedback from someone else can keep you from mentally jumping to another topic or future activity too fast.
Even though calling on past events or information and planning for the future are both important, being happy and productive means being able to experience right now to the deepest degree. Simple strategies, such as those above, can help you develop a mindful, present-based way of thinking and acting which you can carry with you at work and in life. Start small with any of them, but make sure you start.