No matter what you do, some workdays are more stimulating than others – and a new Mayo Clinic study suggests that greater mental activity in your working years could have a positive impact on your brain’s health later in life. So what can you do to stay engaged?
Whether you’re busy or not, it can sometimes be hard to stay engaged with the work in front of you. But while it might be tempting to check your phone or your favorite news blog, not only do interruptions make it harder to get things done, but they may actually lower the quality of the work you’re doing: Researchers at George Mason University, including Cyrus Foroughi, found that essays written by students who were briefly interrupted during the writing or outlining process were shorter and of a significantly lower quality than those written by uninterrupted students.
“Interruption can cause a noticeable decrement in the quality of work, so it’s important to take steps to reduce the number of external interruptions we encounter daily,” Foroughi said an interview with the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. “For example, turn off your cell phone and disable notifications such as e-mail while trying to complete an important task.”
Multitasking may not be helping
Your productivity could be taking a direct hit, all thanks to your can-do attitude. Even brief interruptions during a 20-minute task can dramatically lower the quality of work done in that period. Researchers found that once a train of thought was interrupted, study participants were slow to return to what they were previously working on – if they did so at all. The recommendation? Close your chat client and zero in on the details.
Stay on task
A popular time-management technique could help stay you out of the weeds and away from social media distractions. It’s called Pomodoro® – named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer it was inspired by – and the concept is simple: work for 25 minutes straight then take a 3-5 minute break, no excuses. Then, repeat. The idea is that dedicated work periods help you get focused, and breaks reward you for staying focused. Supporters of the technique say it helps them stay creatively refreshed throughout a busy day and allows them to resist the urge to stop what they’ve doing to Google something or check Twitter.
Eat your fruits and veggies
A quick jolt of coffee might help for a few minutes, but too much caffeine or sugar can leave you jittery or zoned out. By sustaining your blood sugar throughout the day, especially between lunch and the end of the day, you avoid spikes that can make you sluggish and distracted. Grab a bag of apple slices or a handful of almonds if you’re feeling munchy, and start in on another task cycle.
Avoiding distractions is all about practicing a good mindset and keeping temptations out of sight and out of mind. Whether you’re overloaded or underloaded, filling spreadsheets or answering an endless stream of emails, a few simple changes can mean a big boost in productivity - and even more chances to shine at work.