“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”
George F. Burns
“Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention.”
Life today is quite different compared to when I was a kid in the 80’s and early 90’s. Back then I had a TV with just a few channels and later on a Nintendo videogame. That was it.
Today many of us have smartphones that we use to browse the internet, to work and to play games. We spend a many hours in front of computers and a part of our day is often spent online.
There is so much information these days. So many potential distractions and sources that seem to have made people more stressed and overwhelmed than they were in the past.
Working and living in this age isn’t always easy.
So this week I’d like to share 10 habits that help me to keep my attention on what truly matters – both at work and in my private life – and at the same time minimize stress and overwhelm.
1. Shut off notifications.
To find focus the first simple thing to do is to shut off notifications in:
- Your email client.
- Messaging programs.
- Social media and gaming apps.
Then get back to what truly matters without those pings hanging over you and distracting you.
2. Keep your smart phone far away for quality time/work.
The simplest way to not be distracted all the time by your smartphone is to put up small obstacles so you don’t have that easy and tempting access.
Here’s, for instance, what I do when I work:
- I put the phone in silent mode.
- I put it in another room at the other end of our home.
- Then I check it a few times a day for calls and text messages.
We often do the same thing during the evenings and weekends to make sure that the time we spend together is quality time and not time spent being distracted.
3. Unplug or use an app to keep your focus on what matters.
When I write a new article or work on a course then I usually do that disconnected from the internet.
If that’s not possible for you then try a browser addon like for example StayFocusd to temporarily block the sites where you know you tend to procrastinate and waste too much time.
4. Check email, social media etc. only once a day.
Make a conscious choice about when you will handle email, social media and other such checking and replying.
Instead of just doing it anytime when you feel bored, overwhelmed or stressed. Or simply because you are stuck in a habit of doing it 10-20 times a day.
I go through all such things one after the other at around four in the afternoon. Then I’m close to the end of my workday and I have spent several hours on doing what matters the most for me and requires the most focus and energy.
5. If you feel an urge to check something before your set time then just pause.
Sit or stand still for a minute. The impulse will pass and you can get back to what you were doing. Instead of getting off track and end up being distracted for 15-30 minutes.
6. Stop comparing your life to someone’s high-light reel.
When you start comparing yourself and your life to what old classmates, friends and celebrities share on Instagram or Facebook and you each day see how perfect and wonderful their homes, kids, work and lives are then that can create a lot of stress and erode your self-esteem.
So what can you do if you get stuck in this habit?
- Remember that what they share is usually just the high-light reel of their lives, the most positive moments. The other stuff that is a part of life happens too, you just don’t see it.
- Focus on comparing yourself to yourself instead. See how far you have come, what you have learned and what you have overcome.
7. Disconnect over the weekend.
Stay away from work and offline over the weekend. Leave your work phone at your job.
If that’s not possible keep things to a minimum:
- Leave that work phone in silent mode and check it just every 24 hours over the weekend.
- Do a quick 2 min check of email once a weekend (that’s what I do).
- Reply only to the calls, texts and emails that are very important. Otherwise, let them wait until Monday.
8. Keep a very simple workspace.
The computer may have access to almost unlimited information and many, many tasks and emails. To not get dragged into the possible stress of that zoom out to the next level. To your work space that the computer is sitting in.
Make it a simple and calming work space to make your mind more centered too and less susceptible to overwhelm, confusion and stress.
Mine is for example just a black desk, my laptop, a few flowers, a glass of water and piece of paper where I write down my next task.
9. Focus your information inflow.
- What email newsletters in my inbox have I actually read and gotten something good out of in the past 30 days?
- What podcasts I have listened to that have given me value in the past month?
You can ask yourself the same for magazines, blogs and forums and so on. Then take 5-15 minutes to unsubscribe to the ones that just clutter up your inbox, smart phone, bookmark list and shelves.
Time is limited. So is your attention.
So use both of them in a way that enriches your life and that focuses on only the best information sources. This very simple exercise can be surprisingly effective to get rid of mental clutter too and think more clearly again.
10. Remember the 5 little words for sanity: One thing at a time.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the tabs open in your browser or missed messages, when you’re distracted by something while trying to having quality time with your loved ones and when the stress and overwhelm is starting to build up remember those 5 little words.
Breathe and let them help you to connect with this moment again and with simplifying things. Use them to slow down, to find clarity in what you need to do and to resharpen your focus and attention once again.