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How to Stay Focused, Calm, and Productive

By Nicole Wolfe

We've all been there: it's 5pm, you're exhausted from a whirlwind of a day, but you haven't really accomplished anything. With ever-increasing demands being made on your time, you're answering phone calls, responding to an onslaught of emails, and multitasking to complete a never-ending load of projects.

When you're trying to balance so many things, it is nearly impossible to really buckle down and focus effectively on your work. Instead of actually completing what you need to finish, you spend the entire day starting and stopping task after task. By the time you leave the office, you're miserable and tense; your mind is in overdrive as you anxiously try to control the chaos.

Looks Like Bruce Could Use Some Calm

With our plates so full these days, it is easy to fall victim to this frenzied and unproductive approach. Luckily, researchers have found a powerful—albeit counterintuitive—solution that will make you more effective and less stressed: mindfulness meditation. Now, before you start imagining drum circles and people chanting “ohm,” hear me out. You'll see that mindfulness is a form of meditation that is effective and easy to implement, even during your already busy day.

There's a great deal of research that shows that people who practice mindfulness are both more productive and more happy than those who do not. Specifically, researchers at Yale found that meditators' minds were more focused throughout the day—not just when they were meditating—and that these individuals experienced far fewer of the distracting thoughts that kill concentration. A Harvard study found that a wandering mind creates twice as much unhappiness as actually doing something that you don't particularly enjoy. This is largely because our minds tend to wander toward negative thoughts, and this produces additional anxiety and unhappiness. What this means it that your ability to be happy at work has little do with what you're doing and everything to do with your ability to remain focused on the task at hand. 

Mindfulness avoids the ill effects of the wandering mind by training the brain to focus more intently. Mindfulness is simple: it's the process of making certain that you are “mentally present.” Mindfulness requires you to live in the moment and to focus solely on what you're experiencing (rather than on what you are thinking). Practicing mindfulness actually trains your brain to maintain this focus all the time. As you gain control of your attention, your default mode becomes one of focus and calm.

Training your brain to be mindful ensures that you spend more time making progress on your work and less time jumping from task to task. You'll do a better job of getting through your dizzying workload, and you'll leave the office calm and collected. Here are five strategies that you can use to be mindful of the moment and to train your brain to maintain focus for the long term.

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