5 Practices to Anchor Your Attention to Increase Productivity

I don’t know a lot about boating, but I do know that if you want to stay put in water, you use a strong anchor. Likewise, if you want to stay in your slip at a dock, you tie down with strong ropes.

Securing a ship in place is not unlike the need to anchor our attention to our tasks and projects.

We just get started on a task, when we get interrupted. It could be from your phone or email. A person (or pet) may enter your space. You click on an interesting looking link while doing research via the internet. Your own thoughts can distract you.

The source of the distraction isn’t as important as having techniques to minimize the disruption.

Purposeful Breathing. Yes, we all breathe without thinking about it. However, if we spend 20 or 30 seconds taking deep and complete breaths, our mind will calm down and provide greater focus as we start our task. If you need a little structure, repeat this routine several times:

  • In, one, two
  • Hold, one, two
  • Out, one, twoharbor-mast-anchor
  • Hold, one, two

Mindfulness. Brain-based approach using deliberate awareness in the current moment to focus attention. Don’t be afraid! Mindfulness involves a variety of strategies to help your brain learn to focus better. These techniques can be as short as a minute or as long as…you decide. Mindfulness can be self-guided or directed. There are free and paid apps as well as a number of other resources.

My personal experience: I “could understand” how it “could be beneficial” to “some people.” However, I wasn’t convinced that it would “really work” for me.

I ran an experiment in January, 2016: I signed up for a one-month free trial of Diane Sieg’s Your Mindful Year. Participants would receive a free book if they completed a five-minute mindfulness practice each day. Instructions were sent daily via text.

I’m a sucker for free books! Even when I was dead-tired or “not in the mood,” I still completed the practice because there was a prize associated with it. I saw some positive effects.

I decided to continue mindfulness via the free-to-paid Calm app. I’ve seen a big impact on my focus, perspective, and stress.

Download the extraneous information from your brain. Regardless of the task-at-hand, other thoughts are running through your brain at the same time. While some of these thoughts might be pertinent, many of them belong to completely other arenas of your life.

One way to anchor your attention to the current task is to have reliable methods of downloading the unneeded information from your brain. You have to decide where to put the information so that you can access it in the future.

Choose one or two methods and use them consistently for a month. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t work. You may just need to tweak a system, or you may need to try something completely different.

If you would like some new ideas for keeping information, the Minding Your Matters team would be happy to discuss possibilities with you.

Create tunnel vision. It can be hard to anchor your attention if there are lots of visual and auditory distractions.

Visual distractions may be people walking by, items in your space that don’t apply to the current task, or pop-up boxes on your computer. Auditory distractions can include noise from a number of sources.

Sometimes visual and auditory distractions occur together. You hear footsteps and then you see a person (or a pet).

There are a variety of ways to create tunnel vision. It can be as simple as putting on earbuds and listening to white noise. It can be as involved as configuring your computer to only allow certain amounts of time on specific (fun) sites.

My personal experience: If I have a number of writing assignments, I go to a coffee shop or the library. I can’t get distracted by the other physical items in my space. I find it helpful to have a little “buzz” of activity in the background. Often, I’ll chunk activities that don’t involve an internet connection and I won’t connect. It’s amazing how much I can get done!

Arrange your space and information for easy access. I’m talking about functional organization.

While a workspace that is organized at all times is an ideal, many people find maintaining an organized space overwhelming.

A place to start is, “how can I be organized for this specific project or this group of tasks I do on a regular basis?” Consider both your physical and digital space.

So there they are: 5 Practices to Anchor Your Attention to Increase Productivity. Pick the one that appeals to you the most and give it a try.

If you’d like an informed and objective recommendation about what to try first, the Minding Your Matters team is available to lend their counsel.