Four Ways to Keep Your Concentration Cool at Work

By , Columnist

Your on-again-off-again boyfriend is being off again and it’s bugging the bajeezus out of you. You’ve got a bug infestation at home and you can’t stop thinking how disgusting and frustrating it is. You’ve finally hit your afternoon slump. Whatever the reason, concentration in the office can often be a hard thing to maintain. This is particularly true if you’re prone to anxiety or attention disorders.

While I’m certainly no expert, I have found a few ways to combat disinterest and make the time you put in as productive as possible:

Stretch your legs

Sometimes sitting into front of a computer screen with limited human interaction and no window on the outside world (literally) can make distraction or your workday slump feel pretty depressing. Eating lunch outside can be a great way to combat this feeling. If it’s after 1, simply put on your DND and circle the building a few times. Or, if you're feeling stir crazy and the weather isn’t cooperating, walk to another part of the building and do a couple of laps.

Give yourself a soundtrack

Keep your MP3 player or computer-friendly headphones with you so you can play music. Just like taking a run or a fitness class, music can help you get your brain back on the right track. If I'm feeling lethargic, some high-energy techno or reggaeton will help perk me up; if I'm getting depressed from all the work piling up in my inbox, some happy pop music will help improve my mood and my effectiveness; if I'm feeling like I'm about to fly apart and can't concentrate -- or if I've got a tension headache and anything with a strong beat just aggravates it -- some soft jazz or even classical music will help cool my jets and get my head back in the game.

If it’s really bad, change tasks for a moment.

If your eyes are about to cross from looking at the same page for an hour, you might not need a break from your desk, just a break from the task at hand. Switch to another item on your to-do list, stay with it long enough to give your brain a change of pace, then toggle back to your first task and finish it up. This way, your brain burn isn't diminishing your productivity.

If the problem is physical, cure whatever distraction is making it hardest for you to work.

Get a snack, get a drink, take some Advil, put on some headphones, stretch out that knot in your back -- do whatever it takes to reduce whatever unrelated thing keeps snagging your attention and making work feel impossible. Keep small snacks in a drawer or bag at your desk and bring your favorite beverages with you (so you don't have to pay the inflated vending machine price). Also, know where over the counter pain killers are kept, or keep a small stash in your purse for emergencies. Within reason, do whatever it takes to get comfy so you can get back to work.

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Emmie Scott is an English major-turned-marketing exec, with a passion for writing, humor, sharing knowledge, and "pink drinks." After hours, she started Are Toe Rings Professional Attire?, a blog for college grads and twenty-somethings looking to find their way through that daunting labyrinth called…

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