3 Surprising Secrets to Maintaining Your Focus

The answer isn’t working harder — it’s how you work that matters

You’re probably too busy to read this article.

You probably have at least 20 other browser tabs open right now (I’m ashamed to say I have 28 open as I’m writing this).

That’s exactly why you should read this article.

When life gets hectic and you feel overwhelmed, the temptation is to just try harder. Your inner voice scolds you: skip lunch, have another coffee, push through the exhaustion. Keep doing what you’re doing, but do it better.

Stop. Breathe. Give your mind a chance to catch up to your body.

With an overflowing to-do list, it can be hard to justify taking a mental break. And when you do, it can be difficult to fully unplug. But by being strategic about when you take breaks and what you do during them, you can actually increase your focus and productivity.

 

Even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.

The problem with working harder is that it simply doesn’t work. The human brain isn’t designed to operate at full power all day long. Rather than helping you get closer to your goals, trying to focus for extended periods of time can fry your mental circuits, making it impossible to think clearly. As a result, your decision-making and creativity suffer, and your work slows to a crawl.

A 2011 study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign agreed. Researchers confirmed that “The brain is built to detect and respond to change.” In other words, our brains literally stop responding to something that is constant and unchanging — like that report you’ve been staring at for the past two hours. As a result, “prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance

How can you avoid this productivity drain? Do something different, even if only for a moment. The study’s authors found that “even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.”

Sustained productivity and focus requires giving your mind plenty of opportunity to rest and recharge, so you can come back stronger than ever.

For starters, how often should you take a break? For how long? And what kind of break works best? There are plenty of opinions on the right balance between work and break time:

Pomodoro Technique — One of the most well-known productivity methods, this was developed by Francesco Cirillo and is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that inspired him. In this method, you work for 25 minutes without interruption, then take a five-minute break. Stretch your legs, grab a glass of water, go to the bathroom. When the timer goes off again, you’re back to it. The good news is that after your fourth period, you can take a longer break — 15 minutes or more.

 

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