Managing a scattered mind in your daily workflow.

Jul 23, 2021 12:05:00 AM

When I heard about my colleague misplacing her phone and later finding it in the fridge, it made me smile. Although I haven’t done exactly that, most of us can certainly relate to that scattered feeling and have similar anecdotes.

We surely all know the feeling of walking into a room and not knowing what we were looking for. But have you ever opened new tabs on your browser only to realize you forgot what you were going to search? More and more often I find myself in that situation.

And while these short lapses in memory used to be a rare but common part of life, it is an unsettling feeling to notice them more and more or to know that they have in fact increased not only for me but for a lot of people around me in recent times.

Forgetfulness: friend or foe?

Despite the frightening feeling of struggling to come up with words or remember where you put your keys, forgetting is part of the nature of memory and how human brains work. In an interview with CBC Radio Canada, neuroscientist and Alzheimer’s-researcher Lisa Genova stated that forgetting things is actually an important part of how memory works:

“We do need to forget the things that are habitual, inconsequential, routine. We want the things that matter to exist in the foreground and the stuff that doesn't matter to go into the background.”

This means that our brains constantly get rid of information we no longer need, just like we declutter our wardrobes every now and then. Genova goes on to explain that memory is not perfect, which might explain why our brains sometimes judge the location of our glasses or our phones as unimportant information.

But while we should embrace imperfection, there are several factors that can make remembering things more difficult – more so in uncertain times, such as a global pandemic. Every time I mention this type of experiences or when I lose my train of thought and blame the “pandemic brain”, my friends and colleagues can mostly relate to my narrations.

The causes of “pandemic brain”

The forgetfulness and the difficulty to focus have become a recurring theme in social media platforms and conventional outlets, with an article in The Guardian explaining the phenomenon of “pandemic brain”: our brains have suffered from the uncertainty and isolation as well as quickly adapted to these new circumstances of social distancing and working from home.

Several aspects of life can cause or worsen forgetfulness, such as:

  • Depression, anxiety
  • Long-lasting stress
  • Sleep issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Severe hormonal imbalances
  • Medications
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Especially the toll the pandemic has taken on our mental health – maybe in combination with another of the above-mentioned factors – has affected our capability to concentrate on the tasks at hand and in consequence to remember them.

How to focus and remember better – self-organisation is key

The change to working from home doesn’t only entail challenges but also brings opportunities to make our daily routines healthier. We want to share a few recommendations that have helped the members of our team stay healthy and sane in recent times:

  1. Take naps: now you can take a quick nap whenever you feel like it if you’re working from home on a flexible schedule. Regular breaks make focusing easier and when your mind needs an extra refresh, a short powernap of 15-30 minutes might just be what you need before you go back to your workday.
  2. Use flexible working hours to your advantage: if you don’t have a strict working schedule, use the time when you’re not feeling too productive to rest and recharge instead of forcing yourself to power through. When you go back to work, you will be able to do it more effectively and better focused. And when you take those breaks, or even when you’re on a productive flow, communicate it to your team and protect those times, during which you don’t want to be disturbed.
  3. Take care of your body: the importance of eating well, exercising, and sleeping enough cannot be emphasized too often. You don’t have to do extensive workouts at the gym but a little movement – like a daily 30-minute walk – can go a long way.
  4. Mindfulness: whether it is in the form of meditation or just being more forgiving with yourself when you’re not feeling too productive or when that forgetfulness hits again – be nice to yourself and prioritize your well-being.
  5. Make lists: writing things down is a great way not to forget them, while at the same time it gets those thoughts out of the way and leaves more space for you to focus on your priorities.

Putting those thoughts, tasks, and priorities in order is important to come up with a plan to reach your goals – or just get through a busy day without having to recover your phone from inside the fridge.

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