Has anyone else felt their attention wane while working from home in ways that it didn’t in the traditional work environment? Whew, glad it’s not just me! With part one of this three part series on Home Office Health, we’ll introduce some simple tips and tricks for how we can support our mind in the home (or traditional) office environment via our cognitive processes.
Our cognitive processes are what our brain uses to think, learn, listen, understand, justify, and pay close attention. These skills include, among others, Retained Attention (the ability to focus), and Response Suppression (the ability to avoid distractions). While our environment and our habits are not the sole determinants of our cognitive abilities, they certainly can have an effect. Below, we’ve outlined four simple strategies that you can try out today.
The 20/20/20 Rule
For every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, spend 20 seconds looking at an object at least 20 feet away. If you aren’t sure how far 20 feet is, that’s okay, being exact isn’t the key here, just try to look at something that seems far away (for example, looking out the window at a distant tree, car, building, etc.), but not so far away that you have to strain or squint to focus on it. The idea here is to relax your eyes. As a bonus, we’ve all spent the past 15 months practicing hand washing for 20 seconds so our brains have a solid idea of how long that takes.
Connect with Nature
On average, Americans spend about 90% of our lives indoors, so it’s important to be purposeful about introducing nature into our space. Have you ever worked in an office that seemed to have ample green space indoors? Or passed through an airport that felt like a park? This is what’s known as Biophilic design and it’s a strategy used in the building industry to respond to our innate human need to connect with the natural environment. It’s certainly not feasible to redesign our homes into amazing biophilic spaces, but we can bring in a houseplant or two (even some fake ones!) or arrange our space so that our gaze falls near a window. Engaging with natural materials, organic patterns, and allowing ourselves to be drawn to the outdoors, as well as natural daylight patterns, can help us re-energize and increase productivity, and it promotes alertness.
Technology is constantly evolving in ways that allow us to get more efficient at our routine tasks. In many ways this is awesome, but in other ways it can add to our mental exhaustion. For instance, have you ever been stuck on a project, taken a walk, and mid-walk the idea just hits you, seemingly out of nowhere? It’s because our brains need to power down every now and then! Our minds need a moment of downtime to sift through all the vast amounts of data we’ve taken in, tag it, organize it, and create important synaptic connections. These are the connections that allow our mental databases to merge and exchange information, producing those magical aha moments, creative insights, and the brilliant solutions we wish we had more of. Our brains enjoy breaks. Literature suggests that every couple of hours we should aim for a 15-20 min break, giving the mind time to decompress and re-energize.
- Take a walk (without engaging with a screen)
- Gaze out a window and let your mind wander where it wants to go
- Listen to a guided meditation or relaxing music
- Consider the body position you’ve been in for most of the day and ask yourself how it might feel to counter that position with some gentle movement (ex: yoga, stretching)
- Ask yourself what your body is craving and honor that without distractions (ex: water, a healthy snack, a quick nap)
- Engage in a “mindless” task. If you’re working from home, unload/load the dishwasher, do the laundry, etc. If you’re in the office, refill the stapler, clean out your bag/purse, or offer to go on a coffee run for yourself and others.
When we do need to concentrate, setting up “cues” to signal that this is the time to concentrate can offer our mind some extra support. These can be sounds, smells, or visuals that our mind learns to associate with our work environment. They shouldn’t be distracting, but rather, pleasant and consistent, allowing us to build an association over time. A scent or essence in a diffuser, calming background music or white noise, or a clearly laid out agenda for the day are all examples of cues that we could offer our mind that it’s time to focus on the task at hand.
Habit change is hard work. We might have the best of intentions when it comes to making healthy changes for ourselves, but we can’t ever quite seem to follow through (hint: that’s totally normal). That’s where our Wellview Health Advisors come in; we’re here to help you create a plan for the healthy you that you envision when you gaze out the window, and then help you stick to and modify that plan when life throws its inevitable curve balls.
Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. We can’t wait to work with you!
– ERIN ALLEN, NBC-HWC, CPT, SFG1