Is your ability to focus a little unpredictable these days? Well, my friend, you’ve got a lot of good company. When it comes to work, 75% of the women in tech I recently surveyed rated this as their biggest issue right now. In technology jobs, we’re valued for our thinking and ability to analyze, and if you’re like me, you’ve been taking your brain for granted.
With COVID-19 we’re under more stress than ever, and our usual coping strategies are not equipped to handle it. When we are under a high amount of stress, strong emotions can make it hard to think. We’re experiencing loss on many levels. Things are changing so fast our nervous systems cannot adapt to keep up. Our brains need a little TLC.
Before I became a leadership coach, I worked for 15 years as a software engineering leader in a number of technology companies – all very demanding, fast-paced, stressful environments. I began practicing meditation in 1993 to help calm my mind and handle difficult emotions. I’ve been meditating everyday since then, and yet, I, too, have days when I can’t concentrate. And, I have learned some tools to get my brain back online and to be productive despite the circumstances.
Below are 7 tips to help you care for your brain and be more productive and focused at work. It’s important to note that if the stress has progressed to debilitating anxiety or depression, you should seek professional help.
- Set Appropriate Expectations – Let’s be real, nobody is super productive these days. What can you realistically get done in a day? Focus on one day at a time. Start by assessing your energy and make a list of the top 3 things you want to get done. If your energy is totally bottomed out and your brain is mush, then take a day off for self care.
- Brain Breaks – If you’re like me, you’re used to pushing through fatigue. I’ve learned that working for short blocks of time with short breaks in between can keep your brain fresh. When you take a break, rest your brain by listening to music, laying down and closing your eyes, playing with a pet, or anything other than thinking or being on a device. Set a timer to remind yourself to take a break, and actually take a break when the timer goes off.
- Practice Single Tasking – Do one task at a time. Many of us are used to multi-tasking, but studies show that nobody is actually good at maintaining focus when we multitask. It puts added stress on the brain, and you need to reduce stress now, not add to it.
- Qigong for the Brain – Qigong is a moving meditation that relaxes the nervous system and is shown to enhance brain function. Unlike a workout that burns energy, Qigong cultivates and rejuvenates energy. During times of stress, you may feel more tired and depleted, and Qigong can help restore vital energy reserves. Try Qigong for Brain Optimization.
- Taming Inbox Insanity – Block out time to focus on email two times a day, three max. If your inbox is full of emails that you don’t want or need, it’s time to diligently unsubscribe from lists. One of the best things I did to regain control of email and reduce stress was change the way I manage my inbox.
- Practice Meditation – This is a no-brainer ;-). There are so many ways to meditate, but the most simple practice to help calm down and be present is to count your breaths. Start by sitting upright or laying down, take a breath in, and when you breathe out say to yourself 5. Breathe in, exhale, count 4. When you get to 1, return to 5. When your mind wanders off and you catch yourself, return to 5, no judgement. Do this for 5 minutes when starting out. If you’re new to meditation and want some help, try one of the free mindfulness apps.
- Be Kind to Yourself – If you’re having a bad day, be compassionate with yourself. I’ve heard so many people get down on themselves for not being productive. Things are really tough right now, and taking a step back, slowing down and connecting with what nourishes you may be just what you need.
And if all else fails, remember, take one day at a time. You’re going to have good days and not-so-good days. Feed your mind and spirit with uplifting material, get outside, and please remember this too shall pass.
Which of these practices will help you the most? Please leave a comment… I would love to hear from you!