How I Keep my Focus When I Work

I work several hours each day in front of my computer, sitting down. This alone means that your health will suffer, both physically and mentally.

When I see people in an office working with almost no movement during hours, my first thought is… monkeys! monkeys everywhere! :) Just joking… but… it’s a small truth. Are we designed to be sitting down almost all day? Obviously not.

We are designed to move

Our bodies need movement, else we will be dying slowly. The first warning comes from our mind: it loses focus, starts to procrastinate to entertain itself, it gets bored and starts thinking in other things, and so on. And what people do to face this problem? They think in techniques, they use applications, rituals… all to force themselves to do something that their bodies don’t want to do.

What to do? Stop working, stand up and start walking. Do something that requires movement. Are you in an office? Go to some common zone and find someone to talk for some minutes. Your mind needs to switch the context, and your body needs to go far from that chair. In 5 minutes you can go back to your seat and continue working.

The pomodoro technique

How much time should you work? There are many studies about this, giving different conclusions. But I find that 25 minutes is a good number. Does this sound familiar to you? I’m just describing the pomodoro technique. Grab some timer, set it to 25 minutes, and when it sounds just pause your work. You can come later. There are tons of applications that automate this for you.

It’s common to think that you don’t need this, or that it would break your workflow. It’s easy to fall in the “I can control this and set my own breaks” trap. Sometimes our mind can be completely focused in the work, but our body still needs to stretch and move. So I think this technique helps with that.

This is the base. It’s what I do (or try to do). When I start for the next 25 minutes, I know it’s not as much time, so I enter in a mode of fast-work to get the most of that time. So this helps me to avoid procrastination.

Workout

But that’s not enough. Circulatory problems can be avoided if we increase the exercise level. So I like to do a break in the morning, put my computer in sleep mode, and go to do some real exercise.

Have you heard of functional training? It’s great for this. You will be using your own body weight to increase your ability, strength and stamina. I do something similar to this, consisting of a series of stations, each one to exercise a different part of the body during a fixed time, and it must be done as fast as possible. Then there’s a small portion of time to rest, and go to the next station. Sometimes the rest is replaced by a cardiovascular exercise like sprinting, jumping rope, doing crunches… it’s a very complete way to stress your body so it’s better the next day.

When coming back to work I feel more awake, my energy is way higher, and my focus is much easier to keep. Combining this with the pomodoro technique is great.

Bonus: how to put your mind to work on a complex problem

As a bonus… how I face difficult problems in my work? When I have to implement a difficult algorithm, or I need to fix a complex problem, I find that the best way to put my mind to work on it is by having a walk. It may sound contradictory: you should be in front of your computer working! But no, that way the mind is artificially forced.

Have you heard that your mind is connected to your body? If you walk, your mind will work better. Almost with no need to explicitly thinking in the problem, the mind will do it automatically and surprisingly many times will find a solution.

Try it out!

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