My yoga practice has taught me the power of mindfulness and how to train my mind to focus more on the present moment. That level of concentration comes in handy when doing challenging balancing poses and inversions when a wandering mind is like a sudden burst of wind that easily can cause me to topple.
For many of us, it's a daily battle to stay focused and engaged when we are bombarded by interruptions and distractions throughout the workday, such as emails, texts, instant messages, and social media. It seems there is never enough time in the day to get what we need to do done.
Time management is something everyone in business struggles with and it's often the leading cause of work-related stress. So, how can you keep your mind focused and improve how you manage your time? You need to take control of your calendar--rather than it controlling you.
The key is to work in intervals. This is where you focus entirely on a specific job or task with no distractions or interruptions, for a brief amount of time. You then follow it with a designated break period where you let your brain recharge or get back to people who need something from you.
This work and rest cycle was popularized as the Pomodore technique as an easy way to keep your mind sharp and energized and help you accomplish more in less time. A 2011 scientific study in the journal Cognition endorsed this work-and-rest approach. It found that performance gradually decreased when people work 50 straight minutes at a task, and found that they were more productive if they took two short breaks within this same period of time.
Here's how the Pomodore technique works:
Work in 25-minute intervals.
You break your workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks. Set a timer and work non-stop during the 25-minute period with no interruptions. The key is to focus on the task until the time expires and then take a break.
When I do this, I shut my door, close my web browser and turn off all notifications on my computer. I have also found that tools from Google offer extensions called StayFocusd and Bock Site that can block chosen Chrome websites for specific periods of time, so you don't get distracted. Additionally, I turn the sound off on my phone, and put it in a place where I can't see it.
Take 5 minutes to clear your mind.
When it's time for your five-minute break, it's important to give your brain a well-deserved time out. I use my breaks to help clear my mind. I go for a quick walk, get something to eat, do a few stretches by standing up and moving a bit, or just close my eyes for a quick mind-cleansing meditation. Something else I enjoy is creating playlists on Spotify. I have found it's a great way to increase my energy when I hear a great song and then I can listen to it when I begin to focus on work again.
Repeat the pattern.
You can repeat the pattern until you have completed four pomodoros then you take longer breaks of about 15 to 20 minutes. Try this for 30 days, even if it is just one round a day, until you can build up to another and then another. Track if you are able to accomplish more than you typically do in your work day, or that you were able to cut down some of your overtime hours.
If you find that 25 minutes is too challenging, begin with a shorter work time (like 15 to 20 minutes) and longer rest breaks (10 minutes) until you get more comfortable with the cycle and feel you can accomplish what you set out to do.
These work-rest intervals are referred to as "pomodoros."Think of it as interval training or short bursts of exercise that you do at the gym, except this is a mental exercise of focus and control over what you are working on, so you can complete it.
In this day and age of more and more automation, it's important that we teach our brains not to rely so much on technology or wait to be stimulated by notifications and alerts. We have to practice how to connect to our thoughts and ensure we focus on the task at hand by our own initiative and cognitive ability.
Remember, you don't need to work longer to be more productive. The key is to work smarter, and by focusing on mindfulness at work, you can better utilize your full mental capacities, to do more in less time and feel better overall.