Strategy

3 psychological strategies to be more focused at work

Whether it's a spreadsheet or humble spiral notepad, keeping a hub for your goals has a quietly powerful effect. Hold them close, these constant reminders of your own potential, because they're rocket fuel for creativity. Your goals are the first step toward the actualization of your dreams. Powerful stuff.

To make the most of boosting your own productivity and thereby achieving those goals, scientists of all disciplines can agree on a few tried-and-true methods, which are laid out below. Each strategy has a scientific study to back it up.

These tactics should help you on your career journey that will, no-doubt, have a few unexpected pit-stops and detours along the way. Ultimately, you'll arrive at one of life's mile-markers of your own awesomeness: The cathartic action that is crossing a goal off your to-do list. Because you did the thing. Go you.

3. Take a mindful walk

Getting out of one’s head is vital. A run or a bike ride or cooking or even doing the dishes requires a person to be mindful about something else for a little while. It undoubtedly relaxes the mind, and enables one to come back to their work -- which hopefully is something they love doing -- with a sense of true refreshment. Ahh! Feels good, doesn’t it?

According to a 2018 Penn State study, students who took a walk and focused on being mindful of their breathing and surroundings reported less negative feelings afterward. Researchers also found a possible synergistic effect when people were both mindful and active.

“You don’t need to exert a lot of extra effort in order to improve your wellbeing by being more mindful while you’re moving around,” said Chih-Hsiang "Jason" Yang, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California who led the study.

Clearing your head will prepare you to write or tackle your to-do list.

2. Write your to-do list before bed

This one is easier said than done — A study conducted by Baylor University and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that taking five minutes to write out your upcoming tasks will calm your mind and summon the Sandman faster. In their experiment, researchers compared the brain activity of 57 students, who were split into two groups. One group wrote down everything they needed to remember to do over the next few days, while the other wrote about the tasks they completed during the previous few days. The group that wrote the forward-looking list fell asleep faster.

Lead author Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, credits the mental offloading that comes with a to-do list.

“We live in a 24/7 culture in which our to-do lists seem to be constantly growing and causing us to worry about unfinished tasks at bedtime,” Scullin said. He said one reason why writing a to-do list before bed could be effective is that it helps “offload” worrisome thoughts about unfinished tasks and therefore reduces worry.

1. Learn to "reattach" to your work

Turning off your work brain helps you recharge so you don’t experience burnout, but a study conducted by Portland State University suggests mentally reattaching to work can boost engagement.

Charlotte Fritz, a co-author and associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said reattaching to work can vary from day to day and will depend on the person and their job.

One example is to think about the tasks on one’s to-do list during breakfast, in the shower or while standing in line for coffee. The research was published in 2019 in the Journal of Management.

"Through reattachment, employees are able to activate work-related goals, which then further creates positive experiences which allow people to be more engaged at work," she said.

See also: Don't set your goals. Set your goal. Study reveals the power of focus

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