It strikes me as pretty funny that, as I’m trying to write this post about where I go and what I do to think, I’m having trouble thinking. Or, to be more specific, I’m having trouble focusing.
Focus is something I struggle with; thinking less so.
My brain is a fairly loud place, constantly full of thoughts and ideas. If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that I can be hard to keep up with because my brain will jump tracks mid-conversation. He’ll often ask me to explain how I came to a particular conclusion or topic and I’ll have to stop and unspool the thread of my thoughts backwards to explain.
My issues with focus go both ways. I can focus too much. If I’m reading, for example, it can often take several tries to catch my attention. If I’m busy with work, I’ll completely forget about time (and the cup of tea that I made over an hour ago and didn’t drink). I can also have trouble achieving focus. If I’m not focused, I can be very easily distracted.
When I visited the office recently, I found it really hard to get a good work flow because the open plan style provided too much input — too much to see, too much noise. But offices aren’t the only things that are distracting. I can be distracted by too much noise — music or people in coffee shops — or too little — the quiet in my house. I can be distracted by mess and clutter around my desk or tasks left undone. I can be distracted by the internet. I can also be distracted by new tickets in the queue — we have one queue that requires an almost immediate response and it regularly interrupts my day and my concentration.
There’s a lot in the world to keep me from focusing on what I need to do and achieve it. And there’s no one place that works best for me. So here are a few coping strategies I use to help me get things done. I don’t think I’m covering any new ground here and I’m sure a lot of you also use these things.
Headphones are the best invention of all time when you need to focus. They help me to cut out a lot of the noise that permeates everyday life. I sometimes use headphones just to narrow my focus, without adding music.
The right music does help me focus, though. I has to be something I’ve already heard and am familiar with. Lyrics work better for me than instrumental music and there should be a momentum to the music.
A few albums that I find work best for helping me find a flow are: Night Visions by Imagine Dragons, Reign of Terror by Sleigh Bells and Never Give Up by Maduk.
I’m definitely not the only one to use these. I know a large number of people click pens, for instance, and crowdfunded items specifically for fidgeting with have been made. Personally, I like things I can throw and catch so the Moon Ball is a great thing to have on reserve when I’m trying to work through a problem.
I tend to move around during my workday. If I’m having trouble getting things done, I’ll move to a coffee shop or library. The few minutes break to change location helps my brain to reset and the different atmosphere can make all the difference. Also, going outside if I’ve been indoors all day.
I like games that I can play a round of for a minute or two to get my distraction out of the way. It has to be a game with set (and short) levels so that I can stop. Right now my game of choice is Marvel Tsum Tsum which is played in 60 second ‘stages’. If I’m really struggling to concentrate, I’ll step away from my desk and play a game for 60 seconds and then go back.
Timers are my favourite trick for convincing my brain to focus. The length of the timer depends on how much I’m struggling but it’s usually 20, 40 or 60 minutes. I’ll set the timer and work on one thing until it ends. It makes sustained focus easier because I know I only need to keep going for a set amount of time. Often, once I’ve managed 20 minutes of focus, I’ll find it easier to keep going, but I always work for at least the length of the time.
Turn off Notifications
I know. This one is a gimme. But it makes so much difference.
If all else fails, I let my brain be distracted. Usually this means some wasted time falling down the Wikipedia black hole or refreshing Twitter 1000 times or trying to answer all of the tickets all at the same time.
But sometimes, it’s when I manage my most creative thinking.