How to stay focussed when you’re working from home. (Getty Images) There’s a brilliant saying doing the social media rounds, which points out that we’re not working from home, but living through a global pandemic while trying to do work from our homes.
The distinction is subtle, but important, because even if you’ve done it before, working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak is actually pretty different.
Trying to work while simultaneously managing a household, looking after children and/or teaching them key stage 2 algebra, and coping with the bubbling anxiety caused by other impacts of the crisis is a world away from the odd WFH day you did pre-COVID-19 outbreak.
It’s hardly surprising therefore that we’re finding it difficult to stay focussed and concentrate.
“As we try to tackle the ‘new normal’ of WFH during this unprecedented time, there are many distractions that are preventing our minds from focussing,” explains Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder/co-CEO of My Online Therapy .
Read more: The WFH positions messing up your back and neck – and the stretches to ease pain Many of us are struggling to concentrate when WFH. (Getty Images) Dr Touroni says there are many factors leading to our lack of concentration.
“Many people have children at home, which is a massive distraction. The majority of people are consuming more news and media, which can make it very hard to focus on the present. By keeping up with the news cycle, our minds tend to wander off into unchartered territories.
“As everything is changing so rapidly, our minds are playing catch-up and trying to process everything that’s going on,” she adds.
Add to that worries about the health and wellbeing of our loved ones, and financial pressures, and it’s totally understandable that our concentration is slipping.
So how do we get past all the distractions and focus on the WFH tasks at hand?
It’s oh so tempting to reach for the sugary snacks while trying to concentrate, but while comfort food may feel like familiar friends in these troubled times, new research suggests that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder our ability to concentrate.
“What we eat is vital for our cognitive functions such as memory and concentration,” explains Mike Wakeman, brain health nutrition scientist, pharmacist and advisor to Neubria .
“Foods such as fish, like krill, sardines, all rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, fresh fruit and vegetables and highly coloured berries such as blueberries provide nutrients that can benefit the brain.”
Wakeman says avoiding processed and unhealthy fatty foods can also help improve our focus.
Did you realise the colours you surround yourself with can have a knock on effect on your concentration? “People often think that stimulating colours, such as red, are going to keep us alert, but in actual fact this is more likely to simply make us more stressed, and less efficient as a result,” explains Dr Anne Whitehouse , Author and Empowerment Expert.
Instead, the colour we should be turning to is green. “Looking at the colour green has been shown in many studies to produce a calming effect on our brainwaves,” Dr Whitehouse explains. “It also increases the mental processes of concentration and focus.”
Simply taking a short break of 40 seconds to look at the colour green, is long enough to get this effect. WFH while also looking after children is tricky. (Getty Images) “Smells can have a huge impact on our mood and change the way you think,” explains Tania Adir, founder and interior designer for Uncommon . She suggests investing in a subtle diffuser or scented candle to provide some background focus.
“Lemon verbena in particular is known to aid concentration, while scents such as vanilla and cinnamon can help to boost creativity,” she adds.
Pick your playlist
While some tracks push themselves into the foreground, hijacking your brain and taking you away from the task in hand; others take a back seat, setting a mood and steering you towards a state of flow without demanding the attention of the conscious mind. “If you need to concentrate, go for a playlist that is slower and calmer, with less lyrics as they’re often distracting,” suggests Adir.
Wakeman says turning on soft music, preferably without lyrics, while working or studying has been shown to benefit our brains. “Research data has shown that using white noise or nature sounds to mask unwanted background noise can help improve concentration,” he adds. “So even non-music fans can escape distractions.”
Productivity packing plants
While also improving the look of our WFH set-up, studies suggest having plants in the office or a view of a green space improves job satisfaction, productivity and our mental health, too.
A study conducted by scientists from the University of Hyogo in Japan found that having a plant on your desk could be the key to feeling less frazzled. And when we’re less frazzled, we’re more likely to be able to focus.
“House plants, such as Asparagus Ferns or Yuccas, help filter the air, reduce stress and blood pressure, and increase productivity,” explains Adir.
Light up your desk According to Adir there is a basic human preference for natural lighting over artificial, and a link with improved productivity.“Natural light is crucial to supporting our circadian rhythms,” she explains. “At home, try to position your workspace near a window to benefit from natural light and use softer table lamps, rather than harsh ceiling spotlights or strip lighting.” Up your H2O We know we should be drinking more water to help our health, but upping your intake can also help improve your focus. “Even very mild dehydration can cause tiredness, headaches and make it harder to concentrate, so keep a good supply of water in your work space and aim for 6-8 glasses a day,” suggests Dr Matthew Whalley, clinical psychologist and director of Psychology Tools .The coronavirus and all the anxieties surrounding it has meant sleep schedules have taken a hit, but poor quality sleep can really impact on daytime concentration and cognitive functions around memory and work functions. “Most experts […]