Every day, the average American consumes three cups of coffee. If you’re anything like me, that morning (and afternoon) pick-me-up acts as a mental “on the switch.”
Perhaps you’re more of a tea drinker. In either case, a caffeine boost will keep you awake, and some studies have even linked coffee drinking to better health results.
However, if you want to increase your work performance, there are more effective ways to stay sharp than preparing a fourth cup of coffee. Long-term tactics for a more focused, attentive mind can help you be more effective and productive at work and in life.
You’re not sure where to begin? Here are 7 science-backed tips to flip your “on” switch at work and stay sharp—and keep it that way.
1. Allow Your Mind to Wander
It’s critical to stay concentrated in order to complete work and do it well. So, what’s the point of allowing your mind to wander?
Allowing yourself to veer off track on occasion, as counterintuitive as it may seem, can actually boost awareness and, as a result, productivity.
Although all jobs necessitate mental effort, full-fledged focus necessitates a significant amount of mental space.
Your brain will have to work harder to prevent thinking about (and doing) other things if you’re always focused on one task. As a result, your mind may become tired, resulting in decreased focus and productivity.
Consider this caveat before you start preparing your supper menu for tonight. According to psychologists, while focused, planned mind-wandering can help people stay awake, unintentional daydreaming can have the opposite impact.
As a result, the greatest way to take advantage of a wandering mind is to exploit it strategically. If you’re having trouble staying focused, take a break and tackle another problem-solving job before returning to your original project.
You’ll free up mental space as well as obtain a new perspective on the task at hand by crossing something off your to-do list.
2. Stop for a Break
Breaks aren’t always easy for me, especially when I’m swamped with work. (Ask my wife, who has enticed me away from my desk with a delectable lunch.)
The difficulty is that working nonstop for an extended period of time isn’t always as productive as it appears. To stay sharp, your brain requires a rest from time to time.
Of course, this does not imply that you can leave the office whenever you feel like it. What this means is that being deliberate about when and how you take breaks can increase your alertness and focus significantly.
According to studies, alertness comes in cycles, and most people can’t focus for more than 90 minutes without taking a 15-minute break. The secret to a focus-inducing break, according to scientists, is to completely divert your thoughts from whatever you were doing before.
Do a puzzle, go for a walk outside, or call a buddy instead of pivoting to another work assignment or even going through your emails.
3. Train Your Brain
The good thing about your brain is that it can be changed. You can train yourself if something doesn’t come naturally to you, such as focus and alertness.
One approach to do this is to focus on cognitive-enhancing activities (i.e., playing games that demand strategic thinking). Adults who spent 15 minutes a day, five days a week on brain-training activities like crossword puzzles increased their concentration, according to a 2015 study.
Another technique to educate your brain to focus is to practice mindfulness and meditation. While scientific evidence suggests that mindfulness has a myriad of health advantages, a 2011 study reveals that it can help with attention, focus, and memory.
Start modestly if using a yoga mat for full-fledged meditation practice isn’t feasible. At my work, I prefer to take a few deep breaths and focus on my bodily feelings. You may also simply use all five of your senses to take in your surroundings—smell, touch, sight, and so on.
Even small mindfulness activities like these can help your brain stay attentive and focused when it counts the most.
4. Get Some Exercise
Because your brain and body are so closely linked, what you do physically has a direct impact on how you feel mentally. Regular exercise, such as going for a brisk walk or performing yoga a few times a week, is a quick and easy approach to boost your brain function and stay focused at work.
People who exercise regularly and are physically fit are more effective at completing cognitive activities that demand prolonged attention, according to research.
According to another study, older persons who exercised for more than 75 minutes each week had improved attention spans and concentration abilities.
However, these aren’t the only ways that exercise can help you be more productive. The endorphins created during exercise can also assist you in better controlling your impulses, which can help you block out distractions.
Staying active will help increase your overall physical energy levels, preventing you from falling asleep at your computer.
5. Declutter Your Office Space
When I’m having trouble remaining focused and interested at work, one of the first things I do is take a glance about. The cluttered state of my desk and workspace frequently reflects the chaotic state of my head.
According to a scientific study, a few minutes spent cleaning up your surroundings might have a significant impact on your cognitive capacities.
According to one set of researchers, having too much clutter in one’s environment reduces the brain’s ability to focus and process information by adding to the distraction.
The next time you find yourself struggling to concentrate, take a look around you. Don’t worry, you don’t have to completely redo your office. Instead, make it easier for your brain to stay focused by reducing visual clutter. You might be shocked at how much of a difference 10 minutes of cleaning up can make!
6. Improve Your Sleep
No matter how many cups of coffee you drink, a bad night’s sleep is a definite way to ruin your attentiveness. One study found that even one night of sleep deprivation can impair self-control and attention.
Cutting work short to get some rest may not seem productive at the time, but getting enough sleep will boost your brain and productivity in the long run.
Keep in mind that a well-rested body equals a well-rested mind. So, if you want to stay bright at work, don’t work yourself to exhaustion by clocking hours that interfere with your capacity to rest.
If a full eight hours simply isn’t possible, sleep for a bit during the day. Studies show short power naps can improve focus and energy, which contribute to your ability to stay sharp.
7. Don’t Rush
We’re all guilty of rushing through our to-do lists, including me. If you have a lot on your plate, however, hurrying through your to-do list won’t help you.
Be as methodical and slow as possible when working through everything that has to be done. You’ll not only save time cleaning up errors, but you’ll also keep your ability to stay focused.
Slowing down has a scientific basis that may be traced back to basic neurology. Our brains have two thinking systems: one that is automatic and quick, and another that is slower and more rational. As you might expect, the speedier route is associated with a higher level of anxiety.
That isn’t always a terrible thing. When you’re being hunted by a saber tooth tiger, being anxious is adaptive, but racing away from your attacker also affects your capacity to focus.
Slowing down, on the other hand, boosts your parasympathetic nervous system, which relieves anxiety and engages the logical part of your brain.
When you deliberately slow your mind and body down, you’ll not only be able to focus on the task at hand, but you’ll also be better at coming up with new ideas and solving difficulties.
Don’t get discouraged if you’re having trouble staying sharp, awake, and focused; even the most productive people get stuck from time to time.
The main thing is to recognize when you’re getting off track so you can intervene as soon as possible. You’ll not only be more effective at work if you use science-backed ways to stay alert, but you’ll also get mental and physical benefits that could improve your entire life.