“The Monkey Brain” is a trending term used by pop psychologists to describe how our minds become easily distracted. During this time, we migrate away from important tasks because we have lost focus and are now frittering those critical productive minutes on something else. Just like monkeys in the jungle leap from branch to vine and then back again as they become distracted by every blowing leaf or buzzing insect, we tend to leap from important assignments to matters of less consequence as distracting thoughts divert us from what we should be doing.
It’s just how our minds work. Even when focused on matters vital to our careers, family, or finances, our brains allow us to continue working on other ideas and impressions that come to mind or are presented through various devices, sensory experiences, and other people around us. And, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that our brains want to multitask. If Isaac Newton had ignored that apple that fell on his head while he was working out a mathematical problem, the Law of Gravity might have remained unformulated.
You don’t need to ignore every stray thought that comes to you while trying to stay on task. Instead, use the following guidelines to harness your distractions for more productivity:
1. Get a notebook.
Keep a notebook with you while working on the day’s projects. Each time a distracting thought pops into your head, write it down in the notebook. Then forget about it until you’ve completed your current assignment or have spent your allotted time on it. Keep writing down those random thoughts as they occur. Once written down, even the most tantalizing thought will recede from your mind until you are ready to go back and read them in your notebook. Then, you can reflect on these other ideas and give them your full attention. Some of these ideas are worthwhile, maybe even brilliant while others have merit but not quite enough to engage your time and energy.
2. Hide and schedule device use.
Another reason why our brains have become more scattered is the constant bombardment of information that we hit it with thanks to our smartphones, messaging channels, and social media platforms. When you want to focus on your work, the best thing you can do is turn that smartphone off or put on mute and tuck it away from your line of vision so you won’t wander. It’s the old adage of “out of sight, out of mind.” Schedule a time to look at your smartphone to read and respond to messages and social media content. You can do the same for your email messages. There is no reason to continually stop and check it each time it goes “ping.”
3. De-clutter your physical and digital workspaces.
It’s been a long-held belief that physical clutter around you does a number on your brain and causes it to become just as cluttered mentally. However, a clean desk, computer screen, and surroundings won’t distract you. Instead, you will have a blank canvas that will help you focus on your work.
4. Create a schedule with breaks.
Recognize that your brain should be allowed to have some diversionary time by creating a schedule with regular breaks that get you and your brain away from a project every 30 minutes or so for five or ten-minute stretch. Knowing that you have this time coming up should also keep you focused to get through what you need to do on a project.
5. Keep mental energy away from negativity.
Many distractions come in the form of worry or emotional imbalance created from negative people, experiences, or environments. Your mental energy will be wasted on these but it’s natural to be drawn to them mentally as you try and understand why they are happening. In the meantime, you’ve been pulled away from what you need to be doing with that mental energy. Ensure you keep those negative forces well outside your day and focus.
6. Create a healthy routine.
A lot of mental distraction happens when we are physically and mentally tired. Combat this by developing a daily routine that involves good sleep, exercise, plenty of water, and healthy food all of which feed your brain and help keep it working at optimum levels. Plan out your day and evening to ensure that all of these aspects of a healthy routine are included.
You are always going to have those moments where you’ve been working so much that you can’t help but get distracted by that vacation that starts tomorrow or a daydream that may be signaling it’s time for a big change your life. However, these tips can be beneficial in keeping you mentally focused most of the time so that your mind does not wander during that time you need to devote to a project so you hit that all-important deadline.