Saturday, 3 July 2010

Concentrating at work… eight top tips to help you.

Many of us work in environments that aren’t particularly conducive to concentration – even those of us fortunate enough to work from home! – with lots of interruptions and activity that make distraction all too possible.

We can be distracted by external stimulation, like noise in particular, or internally by the “chattering monkeys” of our mind - so what can we do to help improve our concentration levels in the workplace?

8 Top Tips

  • eat breakfast: your brain can’t run on empty and if you don’t eat your stress hormones will kick in to sustain you and these will make you feel jittery and distracted, as will that cup of coffee you drink to help compensate for an empty stomach!

  • utilise your circadian rhythms: high alertness occurs around 2 to 3 hours after you wake, so start your day with your most important task - you should then be able to concentrate for 90 minutes before you need a break (although this may take practise if you are unused to it!)

  • make a list: prioritise your tasks, and use different times - like immediately after lunch -for tasks that require less concentration

  • avoid what external stimuli you can: put your phone on silent, turn off your email alert, close down internet pages you’re not using, and sit with your back to as much activity as you can if you work in an open plan office

  • avoid multi-tasking: focus on one thing at a time because, as cognitive scientist David Meyer says, “Multi-tasking is always going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes. Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”

  • take a break: research by psychologist Marc Berman in 2009 showed that 20 minutes spent in a rural environment (the local park will do) will help what has been identified by Professor Stephen Kaplan as “attention restoration” - even looking at a picture of a beautiful rural scene has been shown to help - and get you back on track

  • stay hydrated: regular drinks of water really help the brain stay alert and this makes concentration easier

  • use music: if your workplace allows this, or if you can wear headphones, music while you work can help block out other noise and promote the sort of brain activity that is conducive to concentration - if it’s the right music. Baroque music has been found to be beneficial, so bring on the Bach!

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