No matter what business you work in, stress is probably a daily part of your life. It may keep you up at night, at the office longer, or unable to relax when you’re out with family and friends. Stress is also responsible for killing your focus and your motivation.
When you’re stressed, you’re so busy thinking about past, present, and future problems you could run into that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to live in the here and now. This is known as rumination.
We all fall into this trap sometimes, but research shows that rumination can be incredibly harmful in many ways.
- Rumination can create a vicious cycle that traps us.
- It increases our likelihood of being depressed and fosters negative thinking, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
- It impairs your ability to problem solve and be creative.
The problem is that you can’t clear your mind and focus when you ruminate. So, how do you break this cycle and make a positive change that allows you to focus on your work and gives you the motivation to get things done?
How to Clear Your Mind and Focus
With these tips and some practice, you can learn to clear your mind and focus whether at work, at home, or out with friends.
Don’t get stuck in “busy work.”
Distractions are everywhere at the office. This is especially the case when you’re busy. The reality is that we’re not nearly as busy as we think, according to the Americans’ Use of Time Survey. We just think we’re busy, but it’s mostly busy work. And there’s a big difference.
Busy work isn’t productive. It’s a misuse of our time that keeps us from getting done the work that truly matters. Instead, you need to look at your time as a valuable resource that you have to spend accordingly. One way to do this is to prioritize your work using some type of system like Steven Covey’s Eisenhower Urgent/Important principle.
The idea is to place to-dos on your schedule according to their urgency and importance. To avoid getting stuck in busy work focus on things in this order:
- Urgent and Important
- Urgent and Not Important
- Important and Not Urgent
- Not Urgent and Not Important
Doing this will help you cut down on the feeling of being too busy and help you focus on those tasks that matter the most.
Look for “wins” to celebrate.
We ALL think that we can multi-task. It’s a fiercely bad habit that mostly means we struggle with feeling overwhelmed in our workload and spend so much time jumping between tasks that we end up getting nothing done. According to an MIT neuroscientist, the last thing we should be doing is multitasking. It ruins productivity, causes mistakes, and impedes creativity.
Instead, focus on completing one task at a time and then celebrate that win. Every small win will give you the motivation to continue working on the next task because you can actually see the result. According to a Harvard Business School study, every accomplishment, no matter how small, activates the reward center of our brain, which energizes us, helps us feel good, and keeps us focused.
As for how to celebrate your win, that’s up to you. But you might want to consider eating a piece of chocolate. This is an easy way to increase your motivation because the effects of chocolate are well-studied.
- Chocolate increases serotonin and phenylethylamine, which promote a feeling of calmness and stimulation.
- Chocolate triggers dopamine, which can elevate your heart rate and increase motivation.
- Chocolate has a mild antidepressant effect, making you happier.
Start with low-hanging fruit.
It’s way too easy to over-complicate things, and then start to overthink everything. But all this does is create more stress and pressure on yourself, which can ruin your motivation.
The truth of the matter is that chronic stress and anxiety can actually shrink your brain, according to a study in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry. This means that the more stress you have, the less likely you’ll be able to focus and solve your problems.
So, instead of looking at everything at once, try breaking down your problem into simple, small, and achievable goals—low-hanging fruit. This means doing the simplest and easiest work first, which will help you feel accomplished right away. Then, from there, put your energy toward the harder-to-reach problems.
Each step you accomplish will help you feel better about the entire situation. This, in turn, creates motivation because you see yourself moving forward and accomplishing your goals.
Work on habits, not willpower
Focus and motivation are muscles. This means you have to actively work to improve them. And if you don’t hit the gym and practice clearing your mind and focusing, you won’t see any results and your focus and motivation will begin to atrophy. And just like with muscles, it’s not enough to want to get stronger. You have to get into the routine of working out.
Celebrity lifestyle coach, Jennifer Cohen told Forbes, “It’s important to develop daily rituals that will keep you inspired and moving forward toward your goal.” This can be anything from going on a quick job every morning to cleanse your mind and improve your outlook for the day to reading a self-improvement book every night before bed.
Developing good habits isn’t difficult. The key is to start small with any new habits. You might feel silly at first, building such a simple habit as remaining focused for five minutes at a time, but once you’ve built it, you can add to it.
You can also work on stacking new habits on top of existing habits. For example, if you already have a habit of taking a break mid-morning for a snack, stack a new habit of focusing for at least 30 minutes before getting your snack. Basically, this triggers your new habit with something you already do every day.
To regain focus and motivation in the workplace, take it one step, one day at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about where you need to end up, but all you really need to do is get started and build from there.