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Meditation Can Improve Your Focus, Productivity and Memory

If you’re a regular on this site, you’ll have seen quite a few posts on how meditation can improve your focus, productivity and memory. Researchers at the University of Washington were able to deduce that those who undertook meditation training were able to concentrate better, remember more of what they had done, were more energized throughout their days and experienced fewer spells of negativity.

Meditation Can Improve Your Focus, Productivity and Memory

Meditation For focus, Productivity And MemoryIn the study, three groups each of 12 to 15 human resource managers were given 8-week training courses in 1) mindfulness meditation, 2) body relaxation, or 3) the mindfulness mediation after being on a wait list for eight weeks (the waitlist control group).

Participants were then tested for their speed, accuracy, and multi-tasking while doing common office tasks like word processing and using email, calendars, and instant messaging. The subjects also recorded their stress levels and memory performance.

The meditation group outperformed the others when it came to reduced stress, greater focus, and improved memory. The waitlist control group didn’t have reduced stress until after they did the meditation training eight weeks later. The relaxation group, oddly enough, wasn’t any less relaxed at work.

Read whole article from Life Hacker

If meditation can improve your focus, productivity and memory, why are more people not doing it? Is it because they feel strange doing it? Is it because they’re afraid of telling people that they meditate? Certainly growing up, if my friends or I ever saw people meditating in public, we’d think they’re a little strange. Nowadays, I’d look at them and think “fair play, good on you” – but that’s because of how much I’ve learned about its benefits since starting this website. If you’d like to give meditation a go, then I’d recommend 10 Minutes To Bliss by Dr Harlan Kilstein.

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How Not To Focus Like A Monkey

According to a senior lecturer in psychiatry, Ramesh Manocha, at the University of Sydney, background mental chatter that we experience in our human brains is similar to what happens in the monkey mind. This excerpt looks at how not to focus like a monkey, and ultimately how to improve your concentration, by doing your best to remove the monkey mind-like chatter and distractions.

Ways Not To Focus Like A MonkeySo what’s the key to getting the monkey off your back and improving your concentration and focus?

Dr Manocha said it comes down to meditation, with his studies showing those who studied Sahaja Yoga meditation – which focuses on mental silence – had more activity in the parts of the brain associated with sustaining attention.

But if you’re sitting at your desk, struggling to concentrate there are some simpler things you can do to refocus.

“One way is a simple zen exercise which is to ask yourself ‘where is my attention?’ and that quite often helps you bring your attention back’,” Dr Manocha said.

“The second thing is to focus on the absolute present moment and you find two things occur.

“One is when you that when you focus on the present moment there’s no cluttered thinking activity.

“Secondly that enables you to bring your attention onto the present rather than things that are happening in the future or the past.”

Read the full article here

Among this advice as to how not to focus like a monkey, we again see meditation, thinking in the present (a part of meditation), taking breaks from tasks, and eating the correct types of food to help you concentrate, namely those which are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B12, such as fish, chicken and lean red meat. The more I write on this site, the more I see  meditation appear as one of the most effective ways to focus. Have you tried meditation yet? Are you ready to break through that mental barrier?

 

 

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Ways To Focus On Your Creative Side

This article by Sarah Sielinski really caught my attention as it highlights some totally original, yet proven ways to focus on your creative side. We’ve all heard about the light bulb moment you can have in the shower. It’s obviously not just the shower, but anywhere away from your normal place of work, be it the bath tub, going for a run, driving etc.  As you’ll see in the following excerpt, the idea of allowing your mind to wander can encourage creativity.

Ways To Focus On Your Creative Side

Ways To Focus On Your Creative SideDowntime also seems to reset the brain. In an upcoming study in Psychological Science, Schooler and his colleagues gave volunteers creativity problems followed by a period of rest. During that rest period, some were assigned a demanding task that kept the brain fully occupied, while a second group got a simpler task that allowed for mind wandering. A third group was given no task at all. Afterward, they all went back to try to complete the original problems. Those who could let their minds wander during the resting time were more likely to solve the creativity problems.

Researchers aren’t quite sure why mindless tasks help the creative process, Schooler says, but it could be that such tasks allow two different brain networks that aren’t usually turned on at the same time to be active. Schooler says: “It’s possible that there’s some opportunity for cross talk that’s useful.”

Read the whole article here

If you read the whole article on ways to focus on your creative side, then you’ll have seen that there were also suggestions to work in a blue room, live abroad, watch a funny video and to sleep on it.  Who’d have thought that working in a blue room could induce creativity? And a red room could induce anxiety which apparently helps with focus? Living abroad was an interesting one. Perhaps if you lived abroad, worked in a blue room, watched funny videos, and slept in the bath you’d be as creative as is humanly possible?

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8 Ways To Focus By Taking a Break

It may be refreshing to know that it’s not abnormal for your mind to completely freeze up when you’re sat in the same place for too long. Here, Susan Adams, For Forbes, lists 8 ways to focus by taking a break, some of which are rather original. A previous post called How To Improve Your Focus And Creativity describes how you can often have your best ideas when away from your working environment, such as in the shower. These tips are based on research carried out by John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management, and also James A. Levine, a professor at the Mayo Clinic.

Exercise For Focus1. Take a walk around the block.
Fresh air combined with a change of scene can boost productivity.

2. Take a nap.
Some offices offer this as a perk. Closing your eyes for a 15-minute catnap can be hugely refreshing.

3. Chat with a colleague.
Even if you only make small talk, a fresh perspective on your day can help you get a new perspective on the task at hand.

4. Run an errand
Like walking around the block, getting out of the office and taking care of business can give your mind a break and the exercise will get your blood flowing.

5. Brush your teeth.
The symbolism of removing decay and plaque can be especially potent when you are feeling sluggish.

6. Spend ten minutes checking Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.
This is not as good for you as leaving your desk, but the mental distraction can offer a helpful break. Monitor your time however and don’t let yourself be distracted for more than five minutes.

7. Go to the gym
If your company has an exercise facility, take advantage.

8. Go out to lunch
Judging from the habits of my colleagues, lunch out of the office is a dying American habit. But a healthy meal and good conversation can be nourishing on multiple levels.

Click here to read the full article

I think I’ve tried every one of these 8 ways to focus by taking a break, except for brushing my teeth. As a previous employee for a rather large firm, I think I’d have received some rather strange looks in the gents’ toilets if I was seen brushing my teeth at random times throughout the day. It was interesting to see social  media is advised as a way of taking a mental break, dangerous though it is. If you don’t trust yourself you can use a free tool like Stay Focused (for Chrome) which allows you to set time limits on certain sites.

 

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3 Ways To Focus When You’re Tempted To Slack

Staying focused, as we all know, is hard at the best of times, but when we’re doing things that we wouldn’t normally choose to do, it’s even harder. Here are 3 ways to focus when you’re tempted to slack, from which I’ve excerpted the third point as I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on this. I’m a prime example of someone who attempts to focus on one thing for too long, and then wonder why my concentration wavers after 20 minutes – if indeed I manage that long. We all have different concentration spans, but this is great advice:

Set A Timer To FocusStep #3: Work in Short Bursts
Nobody can focus for hours at a time – in fact, most people can only concentrate intensely for around 25 – 45 minutes. Try to work in short bursts, with brief breaks in between.

So that you stay on track, set a timer going. I like Tick Tock Timer, but there are plenty of others you can try, like e.ggtimer. Start off with 30 minutes, and see whether that seems about right for you.

While the timer is running, you should stay focused on the task at hand. 

As soon as the timer goes off (even if you haven’t finished the task), stop. Take a quick break to grab a glass of water, stretch your legs, look at webcomics, or whatever you want to do. Then set the timer again, and start back on your task.

(You might find that it’s helpful to time your breaks, too, if you struggle with getting back to your work.)

If it’s not easy or appropriate for you to take a break from your work, then try switching between high-focus and lower-focus tasks. For instance, you might spend 30 minutes working on your big presentation for next week, then spend 15 minutes answering emails, and so on.

Read all the steps here

If you read all of the 3 ways to focus when you’re tempted to slack, you’ll have also read about the importance of goal setting and removing distractions.  Since these were recent posts, I decided not to highlight these points, although they’re clearly of paramount importance. I think using a timer to focus on one task for a certain length of time is a great idea.  Literally remove all other distractions and focus on that one task until your timer sounds. You can then reward yourself!

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5 Ways To Focus By Organizing Your Home Office

You may have heard that an organized desk means an organized mind, or the state of your home is a reflection of how well your brain is organized. Here, Katherine Gray explains 5 ways to focus by organizing your home office for Tecca.com.  My attention was brought to the point about how your subconscious mind is thinking about incomplete tasks if you have clutter surrounding you in your work place. This must be detrimental to your ability to focus and productivity.

5 Ways To Focus By Organizing Your Home Office

Clear Desk For Better ProductivityDeclutter for maximum concentration.
Clutter is the bane of a productive office. Even if you tell yourself that you can ignore it, being surrounded by piles of paper and other clutter reminds your brain that you have dozens of other things to do, and part of your subconscious mind is thinking about those other incomplete tasks rather than the processes at hand.

The best way to deal with clutter is to make sure that everything has a home and that it lives there. Office supplies should have somewhere to be put away. Mail and other papers should have a specific filing system for before and after they’re dealt with. Knickknacks and other bits and bobs should generally not be kept on the desk.

Manage intentional distractions.
Distractions aren’t entirely a bad thing, despite everything we just said about clutter. The trick is to manage them so that you use them intentionally. Research has shown that taking short breaks actually increases productivity, and sometimes that distraction is just what your brain needs to make intuitive leaps and solve problems.

Musical instruments, art supplies, and physical, console, or computer-based games — whatever your distraction of choice, keep it accessible but not easily so. You want to be able to access the brain-boosting power of distraction without, well, letting it distract you!

Read the full article here

I was not at all surprised to see that removing distractions was included in these 5 ways to focus by organizing your home office. As I was reading this article, I received a text, which I then replied to. I then realized that I’d not taken in all that I’d read as I was involved in the content of the text, so I had to reread the article, to understand it again.  It’s so easy to get distracted, whether it’s our phones, emails, social media, or someone simply asking if you’d like a cup of tea (for the English readers among you). It would be interesting to find out just how much time we waste by allowing ourselves to get distracted.

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Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life – And Get Focused!

I have called this post Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life – And Get Focused, because if you read the book and apply all that is taught, then you’ll be well on your way to getting focused.  If you have not read the book, then this review by Shannon Fitzgerald for Pyschology Today may just entice you to do so.  The authors, Paul Hammerness, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard’s Medical School, and Margaret Moore, assistant psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry provide a scientific approach in the field of neuroscience and a practical application of all that is explained.

Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life

Within this book we gradually move with the authors through the all of the Rules of Order: “Taming the Frenzy;” “Sustaining Attention;” “Applying the Brakes;” “Molding Information;” “Shift Setting” and “Connecting the Dots” (where we learn to put together each one of these valuable tenets to form a practical design with which to newly approach our lives).  If ever, during the course of the narrative, we doubt the real need for adjusting our turbulent lifestyles, the authors rein us back in with new understandings in neuroscience and another example of someone burning the proverbial candle at both ends.

As the book claimed from the beginning, Coach Meg and Dr. Hammerness offer us tools with which “to tap into our embedded organizational skills, improve focus and attention and better structure our life.”  As someone who has at times struggled with the challenges of ADHD, I practice mindfulness meditation, engage in regular physical activity (which the authors strongly urge) and attempt to eat well.  This book is a priceless addition to my library in terms of very tangible life skills that will certainly improve my ability to organize and manage my hectic schedule.

In addition, I look forward to pursuing some of the websites and citations found within this gem.  For these two gifted authors to utilize them, it will certainly be worth my time and effort to follow up on all extraneous information offered.  I cannot recommend Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life enough, as it truly does just what it sets out to do:  educates and empowers the reader to “train your brain to get more done in less time.”  It would hard to begin to put a cost on that.

Click here to view the original source of the article

So make sure to read Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life – and get focused! Interestingly, though not unsurprisingly, they touch on the field of multitasking, and how one who multitasks will under-perform on all such tasks if he/she completes them at all. Does that sound familiar?

Organize Your Mind, Organize your Life: Train Your Brain To Get More Done In Less Time

 

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7 Ways To Focus At Work

When working an average of eight hours a day, it’s all too easy to lose focus with the important tasks of the day.  Here, clinical psychologist and founder of Memory Arts LLC, Cynthia Green, explains 7 ways to focus at work which you can put to practice in the next 5 minutes.   If you think you’ve read them all before, then think again.  Some of them are rather original – if you doodle, aka a doodler, you may be pleased to know that this can apparently help you to focus!

7 Ways To Focus At Work

Doodle To Focus

Doodling Can Help You To Focus!

1. Rearrange You Desk. Clear some clutter from your life. Folks who are organized remember better. Why? Because they have mastered one of the secret to better memory — getting organized. Spend 5 minutes organizing your desk by getting rid of what is non-essential. Keep out papers that require immediate attention and file away what you can. Look over how your desk is organized and see if you can think of a better way to put it all together.

2. Doodle. Do you doodle? Many of us (including folks such as Bill Gates, former President Clinton and others) do. But did you know that doodling is good for your brain health? Recent research suggests that doodling helps us maintain focus and remember more effectively. A recent study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that subjects assigned a doodling task performed 29 percent better than their non-doodling counterparts on a surprise memory test covering the material they were learning simultaneously. Doodling improves attention, making it more likely that you will acquire things that you later want to recall. So when you are in a meeting or on a conference call, go ahead and doodle.

3. Keep Up Your Social Network. Studies have shown that folks who are more social have an associated reduced risk for memory loss. In one recent study, Harvard researchers found that people with lower levels of social interaction were more likely to show memory problems after 6 years that desk and connect with your family and friends for 5 minutes. It’s good for your soul and good for your brain.

4. Play Online. Research has shown that we can better maintain intellectual skills critical to our work performance by giving them a good “workout.” One of the best ways to keep these skills sharp is to play games against the clock. Timed activities force us to focus, think fast and be nimble in our approach. So take 5 minutes during lunch or as your schedule permits to get your brain in the game.

5. Jump Some Jacks. Here’s a tip that’s pretty basic, but packed with brain boosting power. Aerobic exercise is one of the best things we can do for our brain, as it revs up our daily performance and reduces our long-term dementia risk. Jumping jacks area simple calisthenic exercise you can do in a small space that will quickly get your blood pumping. So go ahead! Stand up at your desk and try out some jumping jacks for 5 minutes.

6. Wear Your Watch Upside Down. Give your brain a little stretch each time you check your watch by wearing your watch upside down. The subtle change doesn’t take much effort, but will force your brain to think out of its comfort zone. These kinds of “neurobic” activities are simple and fun and are a terrific way to challenge your brain’s flexibility and routine.

7. Learn How to Remember a Name. Here’s a smart tip we can all really use: Spend 5 minutes learning some simple memory strategies to boost your memory for names. For example, try repeating information as you hear it. This easy technique will force you to focus on what you are learning and give the chance to rehearse it, increasing the odds that you’ll remember it. Or use my Connections Technique and make a connection between what you are learning and something that you are already know. Meeting Florence? Connect her name to a famous Florence, such as Florence Nightingale, or the city of Florence, Italy.

Click here to view the original source of the article

Of these 7 ways to focus at work, the suggestions that jumped out to me, aside from doodling, were the tips to organise your desk and jump some jacks.  In England, I think these are referred to as star jumps.  It should be made compulsory that every 40 minutes on the office floor, everyone stands at their desks and does 5 minutes of star jumps to get oxygen flowing around the brain.  I wonder what would happen with productivity?

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Manage Stress In Order To Focus

If you suffer from stress, it’s highly likely that it’s inhibiting your ability to focus and concentrate.  This is why it is necessary to manage stress in order to focus.  Stress is not only detrimental to your ability to focus, make decisions, concentrate etc, it’s actually dangerous for your health when sustained for lengthy periods of time.  Here, psychologist, author, and philosopher, Neel Burton, for Psychology Today, explains how to identify with stress and then how to manage it.

Manage StressEmotional symptoms: Anxiety, fear, irritability, anger, resentment, loss of confidence

Cognitive symptoms: Difficulty concentrating or making decisions, confusion, repetitive or circular thoughts

Physical symptoms: Dry mouth, tremor, sweatiness, pounding or racing heartbeat, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, muscle tension, headache, dizziness

Behavioural symptoms: Nervous habits such as nail biting or pacing, drinking more coffee or alcohol, eating too much or too little, sleepingpoorly, acting brashly or unreasonably, losing your temper, being inconsiderate to others, neglecting your responsibilities

It’s often not easy to identify with the fact that you may be stressed which is why these pointers are particularly handy.  Here are a few of Neel Burton’s tips on now to manage stress:

Other general strategies that you can use for reducing stress include listening to classical music (for example, Bach or Chopin), taking a hot bath, reading a book or surfing the internet, calling up or meeting a friend, practising yoga or meditation, and playing sports.

Lifestyle changes can help both to reduce stress and to increase your ability to cope with stress. Lifestyle changes to consider include:

—Simplifying your life, even if this means doing less or doing only one thing at a time.

—Having a schedule and keeping to it.

—Getting enough sleep.

—Exercising regularly (for example, walking, swimming, yoga).

—Eating a balanced diet.

—Restricting your intake of coffee or alcohol.

—Taking time out to do the things that you enjoy.

—Connecting with others and sharing your thoughts and feelings with them.

—Changing your thinking style: having realistic expectations, reframing problems, expressing your thoughts and feelings, maintain a sense of humour.

Read the full article here

If these tips on how to manage stress in order to focus were useful for you, please share with friends, family and colleagues.  Tackle stress before it tackles you.  If you want to read more about stress, there are a number of articles on this site under the category of Dealing With Stress, such as Stress Causes Your Brain To Shrink.

Neel Burton wrote The Art Of Failure: The Anti Self-Help Guide and Hide And Seek – The Psychology Of Self Deception.

 

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Multitasking Is Neither Productive, Nor Conducive To Focus

Substantial evidence shows that multitasking is neither productive, nor conducive to focus.  In fact, you may have read on this site that multitasking can actually be harmful to your brain.  Click here to read a post about its harmful effects.  This excerpt written by Sally Augustin (Phd) for Psychology Today looks into the reasons why people persist to multitask, even though it’s common knowledge that it is only counter productive.

Multitasking is Neither Productive, Nor Conducive To Focus

MultitaskingA slew of studies show that when humans multi-task their performance on the things that they’re doing is not as good as it would be if they did each separately. People use their immense powers of creativity to find ways to use spaces and the stuff in them to do several things at the same time – often with hilarious and sometimes with tragic results. Why do even people who’ve read the multi-tasking research persist in multi-tasking?

Research recently conducted by Prof. Zheng Wang and John Tchernev (both from The Ohio State University), sheds new light on the answer to that question. They learned that multi-tasking feels good. The researchers found “that multitasking often gave . . . an emotional boost, even when it hurt . . . cognitive functions, such as studying. ‘There’s this myth among some people that multitasking makes them more productive,’ said Zheng Wang . . . ‘But they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive – they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.’” [quotes from a press release from The Ohio State University]

View the original source of the article here

So we know that multitasking is neither productive nor conducive to focus but people continue to indulge as it ‘feels good’.  The emotional satisfaction would appear to be a false sense of satisfaction, or at least misunderstood.  Maybe one way to determine if you’re actually being productive is to take a step back half way through your day, or at the end of the day to see what you’ve actually achieved.   If you’ve just cleared a load of emails from your inbox or dealt with your expenses, then it may be an indicator that your feeling of satisfaction may not be warranted!

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