How to Stop Your Mind from Wandering at Work

February 3, 2016 • Rehack Team


Do you struggle to stop your mind from wandering?

Daydreaming at work is inevitable every once in a while, but once it becomes a habit, a wandering mind could greatly hinder your productivity. Fortunately, there are several things you can try to improve focus and potentially get tasks done faster.

Don’t Check E-mail so Often

With a few exceptions, most people probably only check their physical mailboxes a couple times a day, or maybe just once. However, it’s common for office dwellers to open their e-mail inboxes far more frequently, such as several times per hour.

A British Columbian study found checking e-mail encourages people to engage in multitasking, which may make it harder for them to get things done. Furthermore, researchers realized an inbox can act as a to-do list that never seems to end. Just prior to checking for new messages, you could theoretically feel anxious, wondering who’s waiting for you to take action via e-mail requests.

Set Expectations

Some people also have trouble with their minds wandering when they aren’t clear enough about their availability. For example, if you tell a colleague you’re tied up in a task for the next hour but can help them after that, there’s no need to worry they might start getting impatient and wondering when you’ll come to assist.

On the other hand, if you are vague and tell someone you’re available to help with something but don’t specify when, that could make you feel guilty about sticking to whatever responsibility you’re currently tackling. It also might make you spend more time being preoccupied about what the other person might be thinking than getting stuff done.

Stay Aware of What You’re Thinking

Some psychology experts consider procrastination as a form of daydreaming since daydreaming enables you to put off what you need to do. About 80 percent of students and 25 percent of adults admit to procrastination, so it’s certainly a common problem.

The next time you find yourself tempted to procrastinate, practice what’s known in psychology as meta awareness. That simply means being aware of what you’re thinking, so the daydreams you have — whether or not they’re related to things you’re putting off — don’t have a chance to take too much control.

When your mind starts to wander to a topic like what you’ll eat for dinner tonight or why your gym workout yesterday wasn’t as fruitful as expected, gently coax your thoughts back to the present. Ultimately, worrying too much about future or past concerns is often a waste of energy anyway.

Don’t Give Time to Distractions

This tip will take some time to master, but the more you can convince your mind not to tune into distractions, the easier it’ll be to prevent wandering thoughts. To start training yourself, try something that’s sometimes called “The Spider Technique.”

If you hold something that’s vibrating near a spider’s web and do it several times, the spider will repeatedly try to discover the source of the disturbance. Before long, though, it’ll stop responding to the new stimuli and just ignore it.

You can teach yourself to do the same thing. When you’re tempted to let your mind wander by focusing on the people chatting a few desks over or the ringing telephone to your left, tell yourself something short and empowering like, “Stay focused on your task,” and work hard to meet that demand.

If you’ve ever been shocked at the way some people seem immune to distractions while others find their time dominated by them, remember the secret to success is likely just diligent practice through concentration-improving techniques.

These suggestions won’t work overnight, but the first step to making improvements in concentration is to recognize a problem exists. Our technology-driven culture could cause attention to get diverted easier than ever. Luckily, the ideas above are refreshingly low tech.