Here’s a riddle:
The time is 2:47 p.m. Thirty minutes ago, the time was 2:47 p.m. In another 30 minutes, the time will still be 2:47 p.m. How is this possible?
No. It’s not a broken clock.
No . . . neither time zones nor time travel were involved.
It’s a Friday afternoon at work, of course! And the minutes stretch on foreverrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
I call it The Lull. It’s that period after lunch on a Friday afternoon when time stops. When I want nothing more than the workday to be over. When my focus starts running like a roadrunner being chased by a coyote.
Because the weekend is calling. My wife is waiting for me. My daughter is waiting for me. My beer is waiting for me . . .
If you’re anything like me and are wondering how to stay focused, you’ve come to the right place. Here are five easy steps that will help you improve focus at work.
With a little practice and preparation (and a few tricks up your sleeve), you can finish the day just as strong as you started it.
STEP 1: MOVE YOUR BODY
Your mind and your body are inextricably linked. If you want to improve your mental well-being, you have to take care of your physical well-being. And the opposite is true—a strong mind is necessary for a strong body. If you want to improve concentration, you’re going to have to sweat.
Taking multiple short breaks while working through a project can actually increase productivity.
Preventing The Lull: Daily exercise, ideally in the morning, helps jumpstart your mind for the rest of the day. And you don’t need to do hours of Ironman training. Just twenty minutes of blood-moving exercise will get it done. Make it a habit and your mind will be more focused at work, all day long.
During The Lull: A ten-minute walk when The Lull strikes will reset your body and your mind. Fresh air, a change of scenery, aerobic exercise, and maybe the company of a co-worker or a moment to be alone with your thoughts—just what the body (and mind) needs.
STEP 2: WORK YOUR BRAIN
Your brain is a muscle. Okay . . . no it isn’t. But you should treat it like it is. This means that, like a bicep or a pectoral, neglecting your brain’s “fitness” will cause it to atrophy and weaken. Over longer periods of inactivity, your mind will become slow and lethargic. It’s true what they say: if you do not use it, you lose it.
Preventing The Lull: Flex your brain as often as possible. You can keep your brain “fit” by routinely engaging in memory exercises, reading books or long articles (slowly and thoughtfully), keeping a journal, and practicing active listening.
During The Lull: When you feel your focus drifting away from your work, pull it back in with a quick doodling session. Doodling engages the brain and hones your focus. With practice, you’ll know how to doodle your way to a clear, focused mind (and improve your drawing skills while you’re at it).
STEP 3: FEED YOUR BODY
Going back to the link between body and mind, what you eat matters. There isn’t a doctor, neuroscientist, or dietitian on earth that will tell you that eating junk food will help your cognitive functionality. Eat quality foods and enjoy quality energy in return.
Caffeine has been proven to help the brain fight distractions.
Preventing The Lull: Eat healthy! Already have a healthy, balanced, energy-packed diet? Try intermittent fasting (i.e., fasting for sixteen hours of the day and only eating within a one eight-hour period). Delaying your first meal for as long as you can will help you power through the afternoon.
During The Lull: A high-protein snack (low in sugar to avoid “the crash”), paired with a cup or two of coffee, will give your body the energy boost it needs to stay on task. Plus, caffeine has been proven to help the brain fight distractions.
STEP 4: NOURISH YOUR BRAIN
Your body needs the right kinds of foods to perform at its best, and so does your brain. There’s no nice way to say this, but, um . . . your brain is big-boned? Festively plump? Curvy or voluptuous? Fine. Your brain is fat. There. I said it. In fact, your brain is about 60 percent fat! Because of this, your brain actually needs fat to thrive.
Preventing The Lull: It goes against what we’ve been told for years, but a fatty diet—comprised of natural, unprocessed, healthy fats—is essential for brain health and will actually improve cognitive function. Think nuts, avocados, natural butter (ideally from grass-fed cows), olive and coconut oils, salmon, and eggs.
During The Lull: When The Lull shows up, it’s probably too late to devour avocado toast and expect immediate results. However, not all nourishment comes from food. When The Lull does hit, despite your best efforts to avoid it (it happens), try listening to upbeat music to “feed” your brain the good stuff. But maybe wear headphones, eh?
STEP 5: REST
Sometimes the best thing you can do to start improving your focus at work is nothing. Do nothing at all. Unplug. Decompress. Unwind. Relax. Fatigue is usually the culprit behind The Lull, and all the steps above help fight fatigue. But the best diet in the world, with the most rigorous exercise schedule, means nothing without necessary down time.
Preventing The Lull: Nothing beats a good night’s sleep. Try to get at least seven hours per night—and to improve the quality of your sleep, try reading before bed instead of watching TV. It’s also a great idea to get into the daily habit of silent meditation. Your brain needs regular moments of silence to function at its best.
During The Lull: Taking multiple short breaks while working through a project can actually increase productivity. And you might think about “unplugging” from technology and social media several times a day, too. The sensory overload of screen time can result in brain fatigue. Lastly, sometimes when The Lull rears its ugly head, you just have to take a good nap.
There you have it. Five easy steps to help you improve concentration and stay focused on a Friday afternoon—or any day of the week.
And if you read this whole article, then you just killed another ten minutes. Oh, come on! How is it still 2:47 p.m.?