How to focus on work under extreme stress: 6 techniques


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Conflicts in the family, problems at work, difficult news – when the world around you is collapsing, it is not easy to concentrate on work. Xu Techs talks about concentration techniques that will help you complete work task

Stress, brain and attention

Why does prolonged stress cause poor concentration? The fact is that the human mind is not capable of processing many stimuli at the same time and we constantly have to choose what exactly we need to concentrate on.

On the one hand, we receive a lot of stimuli from the world around us and our attention is attracted by the most unusual of them, such as loud sounds or bright colors. On the other hand, we have our own goals and objectives that we need to focus on, and the brain knows how to suppress information that is irrelevant for solving them.

Thus, signals coming from sensory systems compete for our attention with commands from those areas of the brain that are responsible for executive functions – planning and thinking.

Normally, the human brain successfully suppresses signals about irrelevant stimuli and we easily manage our attention, but in a stressful situation the body begins to adapt the operation of all systems to the danger that has arisen.

In this case, a number of chemical compounds enter the bloodstream, which reconfigure the brain so that a person’s attention is drawn primarily to bright stimuli about which the sensory systems inform him. While executive functions become dulled: in the confrontation between external stimuli and internal goals, the former begin to win.

Apparently, this is due to the fact that for a long time, in case of danger, it was important for people to quickly react to external events, for example, in order to notice an attacking predator in time.

Today we worry mostly about deadlines, news or conflicts with colleagues and we don’t need to be on guard to spot an angry bear in the bushes; but our brains still continue to look for danger outside, and the higher the stress level, the more easily we are distracted by external stimuli. [1]

How to focus your attention

If you systematically cannot concentrate at work, ideally, of course, you need to take a break and rest, but this is not always possible: many of us have to work in conditions where there is no strength, and attention is focused on anything except what is really important business This especially affects freelancers, who must structure their own day, but office workers, including those who work remotely, can face similar problems.

Unfortunately, in the human body there is no magic button that effortlessly turns on performance in the complete absence of resources. But you can at least try to make sure that the necessary tasks are solved, at least slowly, and not just moved from one working day to another.

All people have different life circumstances and different states of the body, so in general our recommendations will not suit everyone: observe yourself to understand what and why you are distracted personally, and adapt the advice to your situation.

1. Remove anything that might distract you from your work.

In a situation where it is difficult for you to concentrate, any random thing or association can throw you off your thoughts. To avoid this, make sure that nothing but work comes into your field of vision: this will minimize the number of stimuli that try to distract your attention and increase your chances of concentrating on business. Try to go to a quiet room or put on headphones, and if possible, remove from the table everything that you do not need at the moment for work. Put your phone away. Hide the bookmarks bar in your browser. Close unnecessary windows and tabs.

2. Set up notifications in instant messengers and social networks

There cannot be one solution that will suit absolutely everyone: some are completely independent of social networks, while others work only on them – for example, they discuss all issues with colleagues on Telegram or set up targeted advertising on VK.

If you can’t block all social media, turn off notifications that you absolutely don’t need, like entertainment channels or friends. When you are expecting an important message from someone, leave notifications only for that contact.

However, sometimes we turn off notifications and start constantly checking new messages in instant messengers manually. If you catch yourself doing this, try moving application icons to another folder, logging out of social networks, or changing the screen unlock method to break the automaticity of actions. When you feel that you are used to the new settings, simply move the applications to a new folder or change the password on the screen again.

If you are drawn to the news, set yourself a specific time when you are “allowed” to read it, for example, strictly at 12:00 and 19:00 for 30 minutes. If this does not help, set up the “Parental Controls” function and block the relevant sites.

3. Turn on a timer and alternate between work and rest time

This recommendation can be found in many books on productivity and time management: concentrating for a relatively short period of time is often easier than concentrating on a whole working day. The Pomodoro method involves working for 25 minutes, resting for five minutes, and then repeating the cycle; Sometimes experts recommend focusing on a task for 45 minutes and taking a break for 15 minutes.

Choose the mode that suits you personally. If you can’t concentrate for a long time, set a timer for at least five minutes. This will help you get started, and perhaps after a few cycles it will turn out that you are successfully involved in work.

It’s easy to find many online timers on the Web that you can customize, for example, “ Pomodorkovy Timer ” (in US) or Pomofocus (in English), where you can set arbitrary time intervals for work and rest, and also indicate whether the timer should after signal to automatically start counting the next cycle or it must be started again each time.

We recommend turning on automatic mode: if you do get distracted from work, another beep will help you return to reality.

If you are distracted by ideas for new projects or tasks, do not start immediately, but write them down and put them aside; You can return to the list during a break or after the end of the working day.

4. Break the task into subtasks

4. Break the task into subtasks

Be guided by your state in the same way as with setting a timer: in extreme cases, the “compile a report” task can be divided into stages, up to “create a file” or “write a header”. The most important thing is to start taking action: successfully solving small subtasks will help you get into working mode.

5. Talk to yourself about ideas and steps to solve a problem.

If you can barely concentrate on a text or you have a complex project to complete but you can’t remember the sequence of actions in your head, try telling someone about it. To do this, you will have to structure the information, and this often helps to put your thoughts in order.

If possible, tell a colleague or friend what you are trying to do; if not, say it in a whisper or to yourself in order to get the necessary facts or algorithm of actions into your head.

6. Agree with a colleague or friend about mutual support

If you are unable to bring yourself to sit down for important tasks, call or write to each other once in a while and ask how things are going. Don’t forget that everyone has different needs and personalities: some people need to call exactly at nine in the morning and demand a detailed list of tasks for the day, while for others a too rigid structure of the day under stress drives them not into a working state, but into panic.

Choose a mutual control option that suits both of you and will support processes rather than sabotage them. However, sometimes a message from a friend can distract you; if you still managed to immerse yourself deeply in work, be guided by the situation and, if necessary, adjust the agreements.


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