How to relax and focus on the task at hand

By Amanda Gentry

It’s 2:00, you are staring at your computer screen trying to decide what to do next. Thoughts are racing through your head like racecars on a speedway. What do you start with, is it really that important? Arghh, why is it so hard to decide what to do next!?!?

When it gets to this point, there is one very real and important fact you have to realize….you are still in control. No matter what is going on around you, you still have the ability to control your thoughts and your reaction to those thoughts. In this way, your brain can be thought of as a type of computer. A computer won’t do anything you don’t tell it to do, and when you do tell it to do something, sometimes it can take a while to process the information before it spits out an answer.

When you are in a situation where there are a lot of tasks to complete in a short amount of time, it is almost like you are asking the computer to run five different programs at once. Too much information and too much demand can cause the computer to malfunction, or shut down. However, if you are able to enter the information in the correct order, and run the correct program at the right time, you will find that getting all those tasks completed isn’t quite as challenging as you first thought. This requires that you relax. Take a breath. Prioritize and take things one step at a time.

The following techniques can help you identify the correct information, and understand when each task needs to be addressed so you don’t overwhelm your system.

No matter what is going on around you, you still have the ability to control your thoughts and your reaction to those thoughts.

Computing power

It would be silly to think a computer could run without being plugged into a power source. In the same way, it would be silly to think your brain does not have a power source that it gets its energy from. Your brain uses up to 20% of your total energy to make sure everything is firing correctly and staying healthy. If you are hungry or tired, there is less energy for your brain to pull from, so it really does get harder to think! If this happens to you, try eating a quick snack, or taking a quick nap to recharge your body so your brain can get the much-needed energy for its computing power.

Make a list of tasks, make sure to use specific and realistic action words

Another reason it may be hard to organize your thoughts is because you are trying to juggle too many of them at once. Research has shown that one person can have as many as 50,000 thoughts in one day, which can average out to about 50 thoughts per minute for the 15 hours most people are awake! Trying to remember, prioritize and act on each thought can be a daunting task.

If you take a few minutes each morning and evening to write out some of the tasks that you know you need to accomplish, then you free your brain up to focus on working on the tasks, instead of simply trying to remember them, making it easy to relax and focus on what is important. Using a small notebook will help keep everything in a single place so they are easier to find. One very important thing to remember while doing this, is to write a specific and realistic action word in front of the task. Write “check and respond to emails” instead of just writing “emails”; write “fold laundry” instead of just “laundry”. By writing these specific and realistic action words, it helps keep your mind from superficially adding to each task, which might make the task seem more daunting, and therefore more complicated, which should then be avoided. Instead, there is a specific action to a specific task that can have a definite start and end. This is easier for you to manage and for your mind to comprehend in an efficient manner.

Learn how to prioritize

Many people have mastered the art of looking busy. Cat videos, a quick scan of Facebook, some text messages here and there, and a whole lot of web surfing makes any employee look (and potentially feel) like they are being busy and productive. Don’t’ get sucked in to this routine!!!

After you write down your list of tasks, take a couple of minutes and try to prioritize them. Using a number, letter or color system, assign those values to different priority tasks such as tasks that require immediate attention, tasks that are important but can be done later in the day, daily tasks and longer term tasks. After you prioritize your tasks, you will have a good idea of how to spend your day and you can have a visual reminder of your progress and accomplishments. Using colored highlighters or colored sticky notes might help keep things easy to mark.

Set up a reward system

Even after writing down and prioritizing things, it can still be a little difficult to be motivated to finish your tasks. Setting up a simple reward system can help you stay focused, as well as help space the day out at a comfortable and manageable pace. Once you finish a high priority task, take a walk outside, or grab a coffee. After you finish the next task, treat yourself to one funny cat video (for moral support of course). If you only allow yourself to get rewarded after you complete a task (even if it is just a small one), then you end up being more productive, feel more accomplished and before you know it, the day is over and you are on schedule and prepared for tomorrow!

If a task is too big, figure out how to turn it into smaller, more manageable pieces.

One important aspect of being able to prioritize is being able recognize when one task is too big to be accomplished at once. If you have a one month deadline for a 75 page report summarizing the last six months of your work, there is no way you can get that done in one day! Instead, you can break it up into manageable sections, such as spend each day of the first week summarizing the budget for your projects, the next week summarize the purpose for each project, the third week summarize the outcomes for each project and spend the last week putting it all together in a professional report. Alternatively, you can try dividing it into page amounts. Split the report up into 25 pages per week for three weeks, and the last week saved to put it all together and finalize everything.

This technique can be done for tasks of all shapes and sizes. If a task feels too big, there is nothing wrong with splitting it up into smaller tasks so you can focus on one section at a time.

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