We are in a pandemic pause, but whoever I meet, including myself, is finding their mind running, too much to do, too many distractions, crazy schedules. We are bombarded, with text messages, news alerts, WhatsApp forwards, news about the health of our near ones! The result is that we start to lose our way. Every time I sit at my desk, I feel distracted. Is it happening with you too?

How can we get back to feeling focused and productive?

Rich Fernandez, CEO of the nonprofit “Search Inside Yourself Leadership  Institute”, a global training organization in the field of mindfulness, and emotional intelligence, notes that we are wired this way.

“One thing we all have in common is the fundamental neuroanatomy that orients us towards stress that is not always productive”, he explains. To overcome this and regain your focus, take the following four steps.

Understand the dangers of multitasking

It is important to understand the impact of distractions on our brains.

We have a “default mode network” in our brain, which is responsible for analyzing the past, forecasting or planning for the future, and reflecting on oneself and others. We are in this mode at least half of the time. But when we need to focus our minds, we tap into the direct attention network, which allows us to put aside ruminations and stay on the task at hand. Distractions, of any form, pull us back into the ‘default mode’, and the cognitive cost of regaining our focus is high. Research shows it can take ten to eighteen minutes to get the same level of attention back. This is why we must minimize distractions.

Allow for your emotional response, but stay in charge

Feeling overwhelmed can bring up many emotions, e.g., frustration, anger, anxiety, taking a further toll on our productivity. We need to break the cycle and regain our sense of agency so that we don’t feel at the mercy of events going on in the world. Psychologist Susan David recommends labeling our feelings and then asking ourselves questions about them, for example – OK, I’m feeling angry, but who’s in charge—the anger or me, the person having the emotion? We need to acknowledge that these feelings are there but not get swept away by them.

Put up boundaries

Identify what distracts you and then set rules for yourself. For example, set a rule that you will check Facebook after you have finished writing your blog. If checking your phone first thing in the morning makes you feel exhausted, set a boundary that you will check your phone after eating your breakfast.

Spend time training your brain to stay on task

To reconnect with the logical part of your brain, focus it on “something more immediate or visceral, like your breath.”

Distractions are harmful to your focus. They have a high cognitive cost. Make tiny tweaks in your environment that improve your well-being. Eat healthy, sleep better, go for small walks.

When you’re overwhelmed, it feels like a lot of power and choices are being taken away from you, but you still get to choose who you want to be.