How to Breathe for Better Focus and Productivity

With all the chaos and things happening in the world, it’s common to feel worried or anxious. I’m already a very anxious person, so the current Covid situation has certainly made things worse. I’ve found it harder to concentrate when working from home, with random anxious thoughts about paying bills and rent. 

However, anxiety and stress doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s counterproductive and eats away at your productivity, especially if you’re working from home. Anxiety makes it harder to concentrate and much easier to forget things.

The good thing is that you don’t need expensive virtual therapy or counselling sessions to get you through this tough time. Your breathing holds the key to better focus and productivity, and you won’t have to spend a penny on it.

Biologically, it makes sense, because breathing is what delivers oxygen to your brain, and oxygen is what gives us the energy to feel alert and awake. That’s also why we yawn when we’re tired. Our brains are trying to squeeze in as much oxygen as possible when it’s feeling drained.

This is also why techniques like mindfulness meditation are so popular among busy professionals. The key to successful meditation basically revolves around good breathing. Proper breathing makes you feel rejuvenated and lifts your mood, almost like a spa day for your mind. 

I was surprised at how much more focused I was by simply sitting with the right posture and breathing correctly. I was able to keep working for longer periods of time, and I was yawning less! I felt like a burden had been lifted off my chest with just a few minutes of good breathing. Most importantly, I was also able to fall asleep without random thoughts distracting me. 

So, how can you breathe to improve concentration and alertness? Here are a few techniques and strategies that worked for me to improve my breathing. 

Breathing Technique to Improve your Focus

One of the most effective and quickest breathing techniques to instantly bring you to focus in my opinion is called box breathing.

Box breathing is a type of deep breathing that quickly relaxes your muscles and slows down your heart beat. With your body in a physically calm state, you’re able to easily concentrate on a task.

  1. Begin by inhaling slowly to a count of 5.
  2. Hold on to that breath, again until a count of 5. 
  3. Slowly exhale to a count of 5.
  4. Repeat this for 5 to 10 breathes.

You can read more about the benefits of box breathing here.

Other Tips for Better Breathing

Here are some other tips that go hand in hand with improving your breathing:

  • Sleeping: The position you’re lying in also affects how you breathe, much like posture when seated. Ensure your pillow is comfortable and your neck isn’t strained or awkwardly placed, otherwise it will obstruct the flow of air during breathing.
  • Posture: Posture has some effect on breathing. If you’re seated with a hunched back, you’re going to be busy focusing on the back pain it’s causing you. So, sitting up straight will make it easier to focus on breathing, and concentrating on the task at hand.
  • Humidity: As humans, we breathe best when the air we breathe is warm and humid. If it’s cold and dry, our breathing is more strained. Consider getting a humidifier for your room when you’re sleeping or working to ensure that the air isn’t too dry for breathing.
  • Hydration: Having a dry mouth and throat is also not the best for good breathing. Our bodies use the mouth and throat to ensure that the air isn’t dry when we breathe in. So, drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. 
  • Weather: Warm and humid air is great to a certain extent. If the weather is extremely hot and humid, it presents other problems as well. Usually hot weather is accompanied by more dust and pollution, for example. So, to account for this, you should check air quality indices for places or ensure your place has a good ventilation system.
  • Nasal breathing: The reason why breathing through your nose is considered healthier is because our noses are better equipped at filtering air. Mucus and hair helps to trap microscoping dust or other particles, so that you don’t breathe it in.

We often underestimate the role of breathing in pretty much everything we do. Breathing properly is key to better concentration, better sleep and even better singing! The key to better breathing also depends on other factors like air humidity and proper hydration. 

How I Organize my Workspace for Maximum Productivity

Having mild OCD means that I find a cluttered workspace a major hurdle to anything I want to get done. It just makes things harder to find, and the mess makes you feel like a mess on the inside too.

So, I tend to keep my workspace as organized as possible. I find cleaning the clutter a bit therapeutic, and gives me a small sense of accomplishment which gets the ball rolling for my next goal. 

A Clean Workspace

This is the most important ritual for me- every Sunday, I spend a good 30 minutes tidying up my workplace and cleaning so everything looks and smells fresh, ready for the next week.

A clean workspace for me leaves less room for procrastination. Unsurprisingly, this is backed by research studies. A study by Joseph R. Ferrari and his team found that people with cluttered homes or workspaces are more likely to procrastinate, hence reducing their productivity.

Studies have shown that human brains are designed to prefer order over chaos, and a clean workspace is a visual reminder of that. 

Compartmentalize

I believe our workspace is a reflection of our mental state, and one can influence the other. This is why I try to compartmentalize everything as much as possible. By staying organized physically, I’m much better able to organize my thoughts as well.

So how do you go about compartmentalizing your work area? To start, invest in plenty of storage containers or boxes to put things in their most logical places. You can color coordinate these items too if that helps you. For example, buy orange folders for everything related to your finances. 

Order your stuff in a way that makes things accessible to when you want them to be. So, don’t bury documents you need in storage boxes. Instead, try placing them in a file dividers or mini cardboard shelves. 

Another strategy I found helpful was to separate my workspace from my storage spaces. This way, I get to be messy without messing up the order of storage. Place your documents at a different spot to where you’re working, so that you only take what’s necessary with you to your workspace.

Organize the Computer

As we’ve become more and more dependent on the internet, our workspaces have shifted from desks to computers. It’s just as important, or if not more, important to organize your work-related stuff on the laptop than your desk.

This is what I do with my computer:

  • Compartmentalize and create folders for different types of files (documents, media, business, personal etc).
  • Physically clean my laptop and keyboard weekly
  • Ensure everything is backed up weekly
  • Organize any wires so that they don’t clutter my workspace (I taped my charging wires in a neat path that’s less visible)

Zeroing in on Ergonomics

Nothing else matters when your back is aching or your wrist hurts at work. That’s something I found out the hard way many years ago.

Called office ergonomics, improving this aspect of your work area won’t just improve your productivity, it’ll save you from a world of pain later in life. Here are some ergonomic adjustments I’ve made in my workspace that you may want to consider:

  • Invest in a vertical mouse that minimizes forearm pronation.
  • Get a chair that can actually stand up to sitting for 8 hours or more a day without feeling like your pants are on fire. I personally always choose mesh chairs with a curved back and waterfall seat edge.
  • Use a laptop stand- it saved my neck, literally. The one I have is from Roost.
  • Get up and move around at least once an hour.

Staying consistent

I’ve found over the years that how you organize your workspace isn’t just a reflection of your mental state, it can actually affect it. A well thought out, clean and efficient work area can actually influence your mindset and boost your productivity. That is why it’s so important to regularly maintain it.

Power Naps: My Secret Weapon for Being More Productive

As someone who works long hours and at home, nothing gives a boost to my productivity like a power nap. I’m also a bit of a night owl, so I rely on my power naps during the day to get work done during the day. 

Napping isn’t just for preschoolers; adults can also greatly benefit from a good power nap. In fact, napping on the job is a part of Japanese working culture! Napping has not only been linked to greater productivity, but also other health benefits such as reduced stress and lower risk of coronary heart disease.

Napping Routines

Biologically, different napping duration can have a huge impact on how you feel afterwards. This is because human sleep cycles have specific durations at each stage. You may have noticed that while some naps leave you bright-eyed and rejuvenated, others can leave you feeling groggy and disoriented. This is because you have woken up in the middle of a sleep cycle.

The goal with naps is to have them long enough for you to feel re-energized, but not too long that you fall into deep REM sleep. REM sleep is the long, continuous sleep cycle you have at night, where your body is busy repairing itself and rejuvenating.

In REM, your brain waves slow down and is characterized by rapid eye movements (REM stands for rapid eye movement). If you fall into this deep sleep stage, it becomes harder for you to wake up, which is why you feel drowsy after napping for too long. 

The 20-minute nap

According to Sleep.org, the optimum nap duration should be no more than 20 minutes. Here, the 20 minutes is the lighter stages of non-REM sleep where you reap the benefits of higher alertness and better productivity, but it is still easy for you to wake up.

For me personally, this works well but the issue I had was falling asleep in time. Most of us have experienced that inconvenient feeling where when we’re finally ready to sleep, our brain starts wandering off and thinking about random things.  So, you may want to give some extra time for you to actually fall asleep. 

Frequent meditation sessions also helped me fall asleep faster during my naps and declutter my brain. If you have trouble falling asleep, try focusing on your breathing for the first few minutes and you’ll see yourself dozing off before you know it.

The 90-minute nap

90-minute naps are also recommended by researchers because this is long enough to complete one sleep cycle. There are also huge cognitive benefits of this type of nap. A team of researchers from the University of California, Mednick et al found that people who took 60-90 minute naps performed just as well on a visual task as having a full night’s sleep.

Other research studies also show that 90-minute naps contribute to better memory. A study by Matthew Walker, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkley, and his colleagues found that a 90-minute nap significantly improved learning and memory retention.

The coffee nap

This was by far my favorite nap routine because it allowed me to combine my love of coffee with a refreshing nap. In a coffee nap, you drink coffee a short while (15-20 minutes) before you take a 20-minute nap. 

Researchers believe that coffee naps are more effective than regular naps because caffeine competes with a chemical called adenosine for receptors in the brain. Adenosine is responsible for making you feel sleepy. It is slowly eliminated during sleep. So, effectively caffeine has better access to receptors during a nap because it has to compete with less adenosine.

How to Use the Power of Accountability to Get Things Done

A reason why people often fail to achieve their goals is a lack of accountability. Unless you’re someone with endless willpower, most people don’t have enough discipline to keep working towards a goal. 

What is accountability? It’s a feeling of obligation to finish a task because you don’t want to let down a colleague or friend. If your friend plans to go to the gym with you on Saturday, they’re holding you accountable for turning up. So, this motivates you to hit the gym on that day, because you’ve become accountable for someone else as well in this case.

Ever notice that you’re more likely to get work done at a busy coffee shop or office where you see other people working too? This is a form of indirect accountability, where we work because of the fear of being judged as lazy or unproductive by others. 

Even the most dedicated sports people will have their coaches to answer to, and this is what keeps them going. For regular people, we don’t have the luxury of coaches showing us the way, so we need different strategies.

Using Technology to Help Keep You Accountable

Apps are one of my favorite solutions for accountability. Friends are family are great, but sometimes it’s hard to sync your schedules and interests together. Apps give you this flexibility. 

The basic logic behind accountability apps is that you will be ‘punished’ or ‘rewarded’ by something you value if you don’t get something done. This could be money, annoying alarms, or even an electric shock!

My 3 go to accountability apps are:

Beeminder

Beeminder helps you stick to your goals by taking away money if you don’t stick to them. It determines your success or failure by syncing with other apps like Fitbit. With Beeminder, you set your targets and deadlines. Then you have to set aside a certain amount of money that you could lose if you don’t stick to your goal.

Download: Android / App Store

Pavlok

Pavlok is a wristband that gives you small electrical shocks if you relapse into a bad habit. So, if you eat that whole can of Pringles, you’re going to get a little shock on your wrist. Pavlok works great for me because I hate electric shocks, but if you’re indifferent to them, it may not work!

You can set the wristband to shock by manually setting yourself or let someone else control it.

Download: Android / App Store

StickK

StickK is a very comprehensive accountability app, and is one of the more popular ones. Like Beeminder, it also works by setting monetary incentives. You define exactly what you want to achieve (e.g. how many hours of exercise?) and you select the stakes. 

You don’t HAVE to set money aside, but most users do. StickK apparently has over $30 million circulating in the app!

Download: Android / App Store

Why We Procrastinate- Understanding the Psychology Behind It

We’ve all been there. You have an assignment due in a couple of hours but you have the urge to take one last Buzzfeed quiz to find out who your celebrity twin is, or watch one last viral YouTube video. Or you might even be procrastinating by reading articles on procrastination, like this one! 

Though procrastination may seem like harmless fun, chronic procrastination has negative effects on our psychology and even our brain chemistry.

In this article I’ll walk you through just what procrastination is, the main causes of it and how it affects our psychology.

Procrastination statistics

Broadly defined, procrastination is the avoidance or delay of a task you are required to do within a specified deadline. Procrastination doesn’t discriminate among age groups, but it seems to affect younger people the most. According to one 2007 study, 80-90% of college students procrastinate on their academic work. 

However, older people aren’t immune to procrastination either. Based on the research of Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University, around 20% of adults procrastinate chronically. We all procrastinate, but not all of us are procrastinators. 

When procrastination becomes a part of your lifestyle, it has terrible consequences for adults on their productivity, health, finances and personal and family responsibilities. It can lead to a host of health issues such as chronic stress, insomnia and poor immune function. 

According to a research study done by Sirois et al, titled ‘’I’ll look after my health, later”: An investigation of procrastination and health’’, procrastination was linked to poor health behaviors and health issues. Some of the health issues were directly due to the stress from procrastination, while others were due to neglecting health priorities. For example, procrastinators were less likely to go for medical and dental checkups. 

Causes of procrastination

There are many different causes of procrastination, depending on the personality type of the procrastinator:

1. Perfectionists tend to be procrastinators

It is well known that perfectionists tend to procrastinate more. The fear of failure tends to put them off starting a task. For these people, it tends to be both the fear of failure and success that leads to procrastination. 

They are concerned about how people will perceive their abilities. For them, it is better to not do something at all than to have people judge you for doing a poor job. These people also wait for the ‘perfect’ time to do something, after eliminating every distraction possible. 

2. Indecisive people procrastinate more

People who have problems with decision making procrastinate more, because they spend time trying to make decisions than doing the task. Indecisive people also have trouble setting clear goals, which adds to the procrastinating behavior.

3. Thrill seekers are procrastinators too

Another common reason for procrastinating is because some people get a rush out of doing things last minute. They believe that they have better performance under mounting pressure. ‘Diamonds are made under pressure’ as they say.

4. Perceived difficulty of a task

A major hindrance to getting things done is a lack of motivation. People lose willpower when they perceive a task to be more difficult and less fun than it is. So, you’re more likely to get a task done when you’re told it is fun. This is reflected in the research of Tice and Ferrari with their experiments on students. 

In one scenario, they gave students a task of completing a math puzzle. One group was told that the puzzle was a test of their skills while the other was told it was a fun game. In the group that was told that the math puzzle was a sort of test, the procrastinators delayed the task. In the other group who was told it was ‘fun’, the ‘procrastinators’ behaved the same as the other students.

Overcoming Procastination

In a future post I’ll discuss how to overcome procrastination. Stay tuned for that.

© 2020 Radiant Organizing

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑