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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.

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