How do I stay calm and focused?

To get any kind of work done, it always helps to have a game plan.

When you do, you won’t be wasting time throughout the day trying to figure out what’s important, what you should ignore, and what you need to do if you run into a problem.

A game plan in your pocket is something that will instill more calm in your mind simply because you know it’s there. No guesswork needed. You have it covered.

So what’s a simple game plan to start with?

Here are 5 things you can practice every day to boost your focus and remain calm, whether you’re working from home, studying for exams, or holding down a job with a long commute.

#1. Give yourself a chance to start the day mindfully.

Instead of jumping out of bed as soon as you realize you’ve hit the snooze button one too many times, you’ll benefit from one small practice that will calm you before the day actually begins. That practice is meditation. It does not take a lot of time to do, it’s simple to follow, and it can be beneficial by improving your focus, decluttering your mind, and helping you to feel more relaxed and positive about your life. Start with just 10 minutes with an app called Headspace. It is a guided meditation that helps you breathe deeply and manage your thoughts better.

#2. Get your mind focused by asking yourself one question as soon as you get out of bed: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?

There are many benefits of asking this question: you’ll start prioritizing what really needs to be done, stay focused on your goals, and you will make a promise to yourself to finish one thing that’s important to you. How can you ask this question? Write it down on a large sheet of paper, then hang it somewhere on a wall so you see it first thing (in the bathroom or bedroom, for example). You can even add some photos to your question; they can be of things that you find inspiring and beautiful, which can boost your motivation. Then ask the question out loud, and come up with an answer quickly.

#3. Create a short 10–15 minute workout as part of your morning routine.

Why would you do any physical activity in the morning? Because it will help you wake up faster, it likely to boost your mood, and can actually help you with your work or studies. It’s not necessarily a long or tedious routine, and to do it you might not even need to leave the house. For example, before you shower and make breakfast, start the day with some morning yoga, a set of sun salutation poses, go for a short run in your neighborhood, or just crank up the volume on your hip-hop playlist and dance in your room. It will give you energy for the rest of the day.

#4. Work on the most mentally challenging tasks first.

Why? Because we all have only a finite amount of willpower to last us through the day, so putting the important stuff off for later won’t necessarily mean you’ll get to it later (or get it done). You’re better off by doing deep work as early in the day as possible—the focused, uninterrupted, analytical thinking that requires you to be in the “flow”, allowing you to concentrate on what’s right in front of you and nothing else. It could be reading, taking notes, coding or problem-solving. When is the ideal time to do it? The sooner the better; research shows that our analytical brain starts functioning optimally around 2–4 hours after we wake up.

#5. Make sure that you turn off all distractions.

All those things that distract you don’t just take away your time to focus on getting work done. They can also make you feel overwhelmed, anxious, and even get you in a bad mood. Instead of going through your email or scrolling through your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed in the morning, try setting your phone to Airplane mode. Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day, maybe once every two hours or during your lunch break. Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the news. Get a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones which will help regardless of where you’re working: at home, in a busy office or coffee shop, or at university. Select music that can help you relax and improve your focus: classical music, your favorite beats, or even sounds of nature.

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