You’re trying to concentrate, but your mind is wandering or you’re easily distracted. What happened to the laser-sharp focus you once enjoyed? Your mind wanders up to 47% of the time, and when you stray, you pay. When you’re worried about an unfinished project or an upcoming performance review, it makes you more stressed and unhappy than if you stayed in the here and now. When your mind wanders too much, it stresses you out and prevents you from your best performance at work. The worst part is it can lead to brain fog and job burnout.
Brain fog is a symptom of job burnout. When that happens, we have trouble filtering out stimuli irrelevant to work tasks, and it slows down and disrupts focus and our ability to process and produce. Although distractions are inevitable, we don’t have to let them continue to disrupt our focus when we use 8 rules to avoid burnout and brain fog and sharpen our attention and concentration.
- The 365 breathing rule. Breathing exercises, such as the 365 strategy help to counter the accumulation of minor physical tension associated with stress and burnout. At least three times a day, breathe six times per minute (inhaling for five seconds and exhaling for five seconds each time) for five minutes. Repeat all 365 days of the year during the day, during breaks or at moments of transition between two activities. Some studies even suggest that, in addition to providing immediate relief, regular breathing exercises can make you less vulnerable to stress, by permanently modifying brain circuits.
- The 90-Second Rule. Next time you feel stressed, look at the second hand on a watch. As soon as you look at it, you’re now observing yourself having this physiological response instead of engaging with it. It will take less than 90 seconds, and you will feel better. Of course, you can always go back to thinking stressful thoughts that re-stimulate the loop. There’s probably a thought somewhere in your brain of somebody who did you wrong 20 years ago. Every time you think of that person it still starts that circuit. When you’re getting hot headed, look at your watch. It takes 90 seconds to dissipate that stress response.
- The 20-20-20 rule. The 20-20-20 rule says for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, you take a 20 second break, move around and look at something 20 feet away, which relaxes the eye muscles for 20 seconds and gives your brain a much-needed respite. Here’s how the rule works: Set an alarm or time popup for every 20 minutes when you’re working in front of a screen as a reminder to get up from your workstation, deep breathe and stretch. It takes 20 seconds for your eyes to fully relax. Microbreaks between meetings—stretching, glancing out a window, eating a snack, walking around the block—keeps stress from building and the brain a chance to reset.
- The 10-10-10 rule. This rule helps you consider the long-range consequences of your career choices instead of making emotional, snap decisions in the short term. Consider three steps before making a difficult career decision: How will you feel about it in 10 minutes? How will you feel about it in 10 months and then 10 years from now? Emotions often rule in the 10 minute short term because your emotional brain throws your rational brain off line. When you consider 10 months and 10 years, you start to have more access to your prefrontal cortex or executive functioning, which gives you a bigger perspective with more possibilities to consider how your decision will play out.
- The 3 to 1 ratio rule. Negativity has a longer shelf life than positivity, and it takes three positive thoughts to offset one negative thought. When negativity is left to its devices, you’re more likely to store a threatening, negative memory than a positive one after just one episode—all in the name of survival. For every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you need to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you. Known as broaden-and-build, this rule isn’t trading bad thoughts for positive ones but changing the scope of your mind to widen the span of career possibilities.
- The 120 minute rule. Getting outside in nature for green time after prolonged periods of screen time is restorative. 120 minutes a week in nature—parks, woodlands or beaches—clears a fatigued brain, sharpens clarity and promotes physical and mental well-being. The two hours can be spent in one block or spread out over the entire week to get the stress absorbing benefit.
- H.A.L.T. rule. When signs of stress take hold, stop and ask yourself if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. When stress overtakes you creating brain fog and blocking job performance, this alert signal can bring back present-moment awareness. When one or more of the four states is present, pause. If you’re hungry, take time to eat. If you’re angry, address it in a healthy manner. If you’re lonely, reach out to someone you trust. And if you’re tired, rest.
- The R.A.I.N rule. When we’re stressed, get caught in thoughts that distract us from concentration. The way we try to solve the problem is by circling thoughts or rumination. Of course, that only makes matters worse. The R.A.I.N. process to extricate us from the stress/anxiety hydraulic, clear our heads and concentrate in the present moment. Recognize means you notice the stress and step back and observe it—without reacting to it. Allow means you’re willing to pause and let the stress/anxiety be there without trying to change it. Investigate: means you try to find where the stress is living in the body—staying with the experience in a somatic way instead of analysing or avoiding. Nurture: means showering compassion and bringing comfort to what’s there, clearing a pathway back to clarity that gets covered up by stress.