How to focus from anywhere

One of the first practical challenges faced by most remote workers is learning to focus. Whether they’re working from home, a coffee shop, or the back of a VW, they’re faced with a range of interesting distractions and temptations that office workers don’t run into.

So, whether you’re trying to work from Starbucks or The Serengeti, here are a few tried and true methods for snapping into focus more quickly and resisting distractions:

Practice meditation.

The science is in: you need to start meditating.

The benefits of practicing mindfulness are almost ridiculous. They include:

  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • enhancing self-awareness
  • enhancing your senses
  • helping control pain and addiction
  • even reducing blood pressure and age-related memory loss.

And, most relevantly, meditation improves focus and attention span. Hugely. In fact, studies have shown that the actual structure of the brain changes after only 11 hours of meditation.

Practicing to meditate can feel frustrating at first. But even when you’re getting distracted every few seconds, you’re still practicing the exact skill that you need to develop in order to focus. You’re practicing being aware of your own mental state and redirecting your focus when you do get distracted.

We both used Headspace to start cultivating a meditation habit (we started with the free trial and then got addicted). There are also a ton of free guided meditations online. (We like this one by Sam Harris).

Even if you only meditate for 5 or 10 minutes a day, you’ll notice pretty quickly that it will level up your ability to focus.

Start exercising.

Besides all of the health benefits of exercising, recent studies have indicated that exercising regularly can also improve your willpower. In one study (found in Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct), 24 non-exercisers were given free gym memberships and encouraged to start exercising between 1-3 times per week. The results were pretty astounding. After just two months, the exercisers procrastinated less and ate healthier food. Most importantly, they persevered longer and performed better on cognitively challenging tasks.

Understand how habits form.

In his book The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg explains the neurological process of forming new habits. He explains that there are three basic parts to every habit:

  1. The cue. This is whatever triggers the habit. It can be a visual cue, an emotion, a location, other people, or the immediately preceding action.
  2. The routine. Whatever automatic behavior gets triggered.
  3. The reward. Satisfaction, food, love, or whatever. This is what will motivate your brain to enter the habit loop again.

This loop helps explain why a lot of newly remote workers struggle to snap into work mode. Whatever cue that normally indicates “start working” is probably missing. Once you realize that’s what’s happening, though, you can redesign your own habit loops. Whether it’s setting a timer, starting a certain playlist, or opening your computer at the same time every day, you’ll have to find new cues that will indicate to your brain that it’s time to snap into focus.

 

Live a healthy lifestyle.

Aside from meditating  The Willpower Instinct, covers a few more healthy lifestyle habits that are shown to improve your daily reserves of willpower. These include:

  • Getting good, quality nights of sleep.
  • Eating healthily, especially foods with a low-glycemic index.
  • Spending time with other people who have strong willpower.

Focus with someone.

Like many things in life, focusing can become easier when we do it with someone else. If you’re having a particularly tough time getting into focus mode, it can help to go someplace where everyone else is focusing, like a workspace, a library, or a college campus. Alternatively, you can try setting up study/work dates with someone who’s also interested in practicing their focus skills.

If you’re interested in even more tips for remote workers, you can check out our Guide to Location Independence.

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