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You Can Work Both Harder And Smarter With A (Sometimes) Unfocused Mind

Scientists have known for years that most people aren’t very good at multi-tasking.  In fact, although most people think they’re good at it, only about 2% of the population can actually multitask with any sort of real efficiency.

The reason is simple:  Every task you do, from checking your email to pouring over a spreadsheet to writing a quarterly report uses a different set of “cognitive resources.”  Simply put, the more you try to switch between tasks, the more brain power you burn, and the more fuel you and your brain needs to get the job, or jobs done.

For this reason, many efficiency experts advocate a strategy of monofocus, which is a fancy way of saying forget multitasking and just focus on one thing at a time.

Unfortunately, there are problems with that too, because excessive focus can begin to work against itself, which ultimately also burns more in the way of cognitive resources and requires more fuel.

So if spreading yourself out among tasks isn’t the answer, and focusing on just one thing at a time isn’t the answer either, then how can you be your best, most productive self?

The answer might surprise you:  Alternate between a focused and an unfocused mind.  Allowing your mind to wander periodically allows it to rest and recharge, so that when you get back to focus, it’s even better, sharper and clearer than ever, allowing you to get more done, more quickly and efficiently.

But how does one unfocus the mind, exactly?  And how can you maximize your focus when you’re ready to get down to business?  Here are a few strategies you can employ, starting today:

Strategies To Maximize Focus

It turns out that maximizing focus is easy and fairly intuitive.  Ultimately, it comes down to setting conditions to cut out the mental clutter.  Turn off your phone, or at least set it to silent.  Close your email and social media pages so you’re not tempted to ‘take a quick peek.’  Shut your door if you have one, and even put a Do Not Disturb sign on it if such a thing will be respected.

The bottom line here is that the more of these kinds of things you can do, the less likely you are to be drawn off task by a needless distraction.  The trick, of course is to limit the length of time you do this.  People who genuinely need something important from you may be trying to contact you, so you don’t want to isolate yourself for more than say, two hours at a stretch.

Strategies To Encourage Your Mind To Wander

This is a bit harder, especially if you’re not already in the habit of doing it.  Here, strategies include:

  • Taking up a new hobby, and allowing yourself a little time each day to think about your hobby and plan out your next project in your head.  Limit yourself to no more than fifteen minutes or so a day where this kind of thing is concerned, but you’ll be amazed at the difference those fifteen minutes can make.
  • Know yourself – if you tend to be at your most alert in the mornings, use those morning hours to do your focused work, scheduling your unfocused time for the parts of the day when you tend to struggle to stay sharp in any case.
  • Completely unplug on one of your days off – These days, we spend so much of our time connected to everyone we know; it’s like we’re bound by a digital tether, and it can be both draining and exhausting.  While it’s seldom possible to completely unplug during the workday, pick one day on the weekend and just unplug completely.  Turn the computer off.  Leave your phone in your desk drawer and focus on you and your immediate circle of friends and family.  Not only will it help declutter your mind, it will also help you zero in on the most important things and people in your life.

Some of these things may prove to be diabolically difficult for some people to do, but they’re all well worth taking the time to master.  You’ll find that you are happier, and when the time comes to get and stay focused, you’ll find that you’re better at that too!