You probably crave more focus and wish you were less scatterbrained. Maybe you've even tried productivity hacks to help you avoid distractions. But sometimes, the distractions can actually be used to your benefit.
Have you ever sat in front of a computer screen with a deadline looming, staring blankly with no productive ideas coming to you? Have you ever found yourself obsessing over something that's got you down and felt unable to move past it or break free from it?
In cases of procrastination, anxiety, worry, and fear in my own life, I've often found that the normally prescribed practice of "pushing through" simply doesn't work. The quality of my work will be inferior, the object of my anxiety will not leave my mind, and whatever I'm pushing through will feel like a struggle the entire time.
Although it seems counterintuitive in many ways, there are times when I distract myself on purpose, until I feel more at ease and am therefore better equipped to move forward.
Here are five ways I use distraction as a tool to beat anxiety and ultimately increase my productivity:
1. Sweat your worries away.
Exercise releases feel-good chemicals throughout the brain and body and reduces stress. When I'm feeling stuck and unproductive, even if I don't have time for it, I make myself exercise. I always feel better and return to my to-do list with renewed vigor and vitality.
2. Go for a walk outside.
Sometimes a change of perspective can provide the shift you need to break up stagnation and move forward. Even a brisk walk across a parking lot (if more picturesque scenery isn't available) will get you out in the fresh air and encourage deep breathing. Oxygen signals your brain to release its stress trigger, which allows you to think more clearly.
3. Do something just for the fun of it.
Sometimes I call a friend, write in my journal, work on an art project, crank up the music and dance around the room, or cook something delicious, just to usher myself back into a good mood. Although I may start stressing about what I should be doing instead, I know the work I do to get myself "in the zone" is as important as any other. Once I'm feeling better, I accomplish more in less time and with less angst than I would have if I hadn't taken the "frivolous" break.
4. Meditate or practice mindful breathing.
Not everyone can meditate on command, especially when stressed. I often find the sound of my thoughts deafening when I need to quiet them the most. At those times, simply practicing mindful breathing can be a powerful way to clear the slate and start fresh.
One technique I particularly like is "square breathing": count to four on an inhale, hold the breath for a count of four, exhale to a count of four, and count to four before inhaling again. The counting gives me something to focus on, and the breath goes straight to my stressed-out brain, calming it down.
5. Go to sleep.
Sometimes the best thing to do is simply give up (for now). Our brains make creative connections and clear out toxins while we sleep. Taking that break might be what you need most. Take a power nap or call it a night. Your cells will regenerate while you sleep and you'll wake up feeling refreshed. Let it be okay that you didn't get it all done today. Your peace of mind is more important than your deliverables.
So the next time you find yourself mentally stuck, consider what you can do to feel good in that moment, and give it a try. You might just find the key to your productivity in distraction.
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