How to stay focused in a mindful way

Every one of us has already experienced sitting in a meeting or being on the phone and suddenly thinking of something completely different, drifting away. This usually results in losing the thread of the conversation, feeling bored or uninterested and thus in a disengagement of what is happening.

In order to stay focused on one thing, the working memory in your cortical brain regions is moderately stimulated through a steady stream of dopamine, keeping the gate, which allows information to come in, closed. On the other hand, as soon as the stimulation decreases significantly or if there is a new opportunity or threat (thus a spike), the gate opens, resulting in you being distracted by something else. In short, as long as the amount of stimulation remains above a certain threshold, there is no need for your brain to seek for more stimulation. But when stimulation drops, you are triggered to get more now. (You can read more on this in “Buddha’s Brain” from R. Hanson, 2009; the insights presented here are taken from the book).

5 things you can do to stay alert and concentrated:

1. Ensure you get enough sleep, i.e. take care of yourself. ‘Enough’ depends on your personal factors and environment. It is interesting to note here, that if you are practicing meditation as a method of relaxation for example, 20 minutes of focused meditation can equal 2-4 hours or even more of deep sleep.
2. If you are sitting, sit up in in an erect posture, if you are standing, stand up straight. Your internal network of nerves will tell the brain that you need to remain vigilant and alert.
3. Take a couple of deep breaths; by doing so, the oxygen saturation in your blood will be increased and your brain revived. If you can, you could also take a walk before getting back to work.
4. Stretching your body will also help, even rolling your shoulders, stretching your legs and arms. Tensions will be released, oxygen will circulate and your focus will be established again.
5. ‘Brighten your mind’, infusing your awareness with energy and clarity. Steadily high dopamine levels like from positive feelings prevent drops in stimulation. The more enjoyable and intense your feelings are, the greater the dopamine release and the more concentrated your attention. Just imagine a situation where you were extremely happy and feel what you were feeling. Or imagine giving a big hug to yourself. It sounds funny, but it truly helps, you will see!

No matter where you start, you can become better at concentration, believe me. This will not only help you at work but also when at home and with whatever you will be undertaking.

Looking forward to your thoughts and comments, and thanks for reading! Jenny

How to effectively survive global ‘calls’

Global callI guess at least some of you have already spent parts or even most of their day glued to a telephone or other device trying to participate in ‘global’ calls, brainstormings or discussions with various others. Being a virtual team member is far from being easy, even if you don’t have to lead a session in a particular moment, that is for sure.

The hardest thing to follow is actually when you have a group of people sitting together in a room and others participating on the phone in different locations. The team sharing a physical location has definitely an advantage over the other participants as its members can visually interact and see each others faces and gestures. It gets especially difficult, when not everybody can be clearly understood through the phone. Another tricky thing is that you might not even know who is speaking as you don’t know all the people on the line and hence cannot recognize the voices. Very few people actually state their name when they speak as they tend to forget that not all the participants can see them.

How do you make the most out of such sessions without giving in to the temptation of doing other things while your phone continues to speak, on mute?

As a participant you should look at the agenda right from the start, before the call has even started and identify the areas of interest to you. Write down a couple of points that you want to touch upon, or simply note some thoughts. This will help you to stay focused during the call especially for the parts that are important for you.

Remember: nobody can listen for hours in a row! If an agenda is set up in a right way, it will leave enough breaks to allow for the participants to re-focus. It will also take into account the different periods of the day the participants are in and hence move the parts where solid input is expected to reasonable times so that the people are still awake.

As an organizer, this website provides a helpful oversight over time zones and lets you easily schedule global meetings.

If you need participants from all over the world, I would also highly recommend scheduling various meetings having the same topic, even if it means that you have to repeat yourself. You will ensure that nobody will be expected to attend at an unusual hour, which makes people happier and hopefully they will contribute more actively. You could for example structure your meeting like a World Café, where every contribution actually builds up on the contributions of the previous sessions. By doing so, you ensure that even for you, it doesn’t get boring and the outcome will definitely be there.

Apart from that, if you can, try to make the sessions as short as possible. The shorter you time your meeting, the more attention you will get and the more focused your participants will be. Oh, and avoid lengthy power point shows, you will loose your audience in minutes. Write down bullet points of what is being said or accompany the discussion in a way that makes it more interesting to the participants, even those not being physically there!

If you have any more insights to share or tipps and tricks on how to ‘survive’ long calls, let me know!

Have an excellent morning, afternoon, evening, night! Jenny

Further reading:

The fight for attention in communication


Lately, I had again the ‘pleasure’ of sitting in front of people who were checking their various devices and answering e-mails whilst talking to me. I don’t know how you react and feel in such a situation but I can say that it leaves me:

  • Angry
  • Disappointed
  • With a sentiment of ‘emptiness’

Whereas with people you know and you usually interact with, you can easily voice your discontent in a nice and polite way, with people you don’t know, this is quite more delicate. Especially in a situation where your counterparts are in fact assessing or testing you, you don’t want to risk getting bad marks or being excluded from further processes. And still, the fact of not being attentively listened to actually has a very ‘sour aftertaste’, where you find yourself actually wondering whether what you had to tell was

  • Interesting
  • Worth being told

You might even think that maybe your performance or appearance was not as it should have been.

Let me tell you something: this is completely untrue! Every human being deserves being listened to, no matter what he or she has to tell. When setting up an appointment, even a telephone one, you ought to show respect and attention. It cannot be stressed enough how the course of interaction can be altered and positively affected if basic rules are understood and put into practice.

So, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation as described above, whatever the context and the circumstances, you might want to pause for a moment until you get the attention of your counterpart and politely ask for quality time. It will give you satisfaction and a sense of value even though you might not be able to change other people’s future behaviour.