You’re at work. You have a long list of tasks that require your full attention. But your brain keeps wandering, and you’re finding it harder and harder to focus — and to get anything done.
According to Victor Davich, a recognized authority on mindfulness meditation, “The most common reason people have difficulty focusing at work, and everywhere else in their lives, is their inability to be present in this moment.”
He described the work environment as an “amusement park” of things that hamper presence.This might be anything from multitasking to email to office politics, he said.
Mindfulness. Both Davich, creator and author of the Amazon bestselling book 8 Minute Meditation, and Patricia Anderson, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, a psychotherapist at DCMindBody, stressed the importance of practicing mindfulness at work.
Ironically, workplace challenges, which impede presence, actually provide the perfect space for practicing mindfulness, Davich said.
That’s because “the more formidable the challenge, the greater the opportunity for change.” (Davich cited this common saying: “If you want a small enlightenment go to the country. If you want a big one, go to the city.”)
Below, Anderson and Davich share a list of mindful ways you can refocus when you’re easily distracted.
1. Practice meditation in the morning.
Anderson suggested finding a meditation you can do when you first get to work. You can try guided meditations, such as these options from UCLA. Or you can spend 5 minutes focusing on your breath (see below) or what you hear in your surroundings (while keeping your eyes closed), she said.
Anderson’s favorite meditation is a series of CDs by Jack Kornfield called “The Art of Meditation.” She also shared these other favorite resources:
- Headspace.com provides guided meditation, helping to train your mind.
- Calm.com lets you pick among guided meditations, music, nature sounds and different backgrounds.
- Sittingtogether.com features different types of meditations, including loving-kindness and walking meditation.
Anderson suggested this breathing technique, which takes less than a minute: Put one hand right under your belly button and focus on expanding your lower belly (where your hand is) as you inhale. As you exhale, your stomach returns to its natural state. And your chest doesn’t move at all while you’re breathing, she said.
Take three breaths this way. Every time you do, focus on your breathing.
Davich suggested this practice:
- “Take a deep breath or two and sigh it out.
- Bring your attention to your breathing and the most prominent place in your body you feel it. Close your eyes, if possible. If that feels funny, gently relax them.
- From this ‘anchor point,’ just allow your breath to come and go for a few minutes.”
Get up from your desk, and find a hallway. Walk slowly for several minutes, paying attention to your feet as they touch the floor, Davich said. “Paying attention to the senses, particularly the sense of touch, helps ground you and brings you into the moment.”
Anderson also suggested focusing on walking any time you’re moving from one space to another. For instance, do this when you’re walking to a meeting, instead of thinking about the agenda or what happens after, she said.
When Anderson worked at a university, this is exactly what she did. “I really enjoyed going from meeting to meeting via the campus with wonderful landscaping and a variety of energies from high-energy college students to the rhythmic bells of the clock tower.”
4. Take meditative breaks.
When you’re taking a break from work, go outside and focus on one sense, Anderson said. For instance, this might be “only feeling the temperature and wind or the warmth of the sun.” Again, as Davich said, focusing on our senses grounds us.
5. Surround yourself with pleasant visuals.
“Have a piece of art or special pictures in your workspace that you can look at and enjoy to refocus you in a pleasant space,” Anderson said.
6. Know when you’re least focused.
To figure this out, every few hours for a week, assess your focus and the amount of work you’re able to accomplish during that time, Anderson said. After the week pay attention to any patterns — the times during the day you’re feeling more tired and sluggish, she said. For many that time is late afternoon.
Then use your least focused time to practice an attention-boosting activity, such as meditating, exercising or stretching, she said. (Anderson also suggested exercising four to six times a week for 20 to 30 minutes. But be sure to pick activities you genuinely enjoy.)
It’s easy for our minds to wander at work. There are plenty of tasks to be done, too much email to answer and distractions all around us (including smartphones and social media). Thankfully, we can help ourselves refocus by adopting simple practices we can turn to every day.