Focus: 4 ways to keep your mind

When you work at a busy creative agency, things can get hectic. When I started working here at KEEN Creative I developed a greater awareness of what works for me in terms of keeping my focus. I’ve created this list of things that I do or use in my life and at my job to battle the office buzz and find my focus.

Will any of this apply to you? I honestly don’t know. Everyone has their own methods or style in which they work. But these work for me, so if anything I write here sounds familiar or interesting to you then maybe it’s worth checking it out.

1. The Old School

I love pencils and notebooks. I always have one or two kicking around because to me they are incredibly satisfying to use. I took some design courses in school and my instructors–even my web instructors–told me that you should always start with pen/pencil and paper. In thirty seconds a sketch or flow-chart can tell you whether a poster you’re about to design or a menu you want to program will work for the project you’re working on.

I find that my brain gets hung up on these ideas that seem to be so great, so smart, and so clever. When I finally put pencil to paper, I learn soon enough if this idea will work or if I should toss it out. In a way, sketching is a form of meditation that lets me quickly work through my thoughts, toss out the useless ones, and clear my head.

2. Headphones

While I love notebooks, I appreciate technology and its ability to improve my workflow. At KEEN we use a great open layout for our office to improve communication between our creatives. When I first started, I noticed that other developers used headphones extensively. Effectively removing us, at least temporarily, from the office ‘space’ while we work. A good set of headphones was one of the first work tools I bought myself and it has been a huge benefit.

Smashing Magazine wrote an article about noise and its effects on workflow and productivity. One piece of advice they give, with which I emphatically agree, is using music without vocals or ambient nature noise to replace the office buzz. I have listened to soundtracks and ambient noise for a long time now to help concentrate both when I was in school and now in the workplace. Of course this doesn’t work for everyone, and if you’ve got a busy day ahead of you sometimes the headphones have to stay off in order to ask and answer questions with your team.

3. Google Keep

I mentioned previously that I use pencil and notebooks to declutter my mind. I put ideas down and they can stay there until I’m ready to pick them up again. I’ve tried using apps and it has been hard to find one that can replace the timeless pencil and paper. The one I have found that comes close to doing this is Google Keep. It’s a simple app that lets you create notes and lists, colour code them, tag them, store them on Google Drive, and best of all share them with other Google Keep users. I put all kinds of stuff on there, from chores around the house to fun stuff I want to do on the weekend to creating and sharing grocery lists with my wife (this last one is super useful).

I recently MC’ed a wedding with a friend of mine and we used Keep to organize and store everything we needed. It was the first time either of us did anything like this, and that app essentially helped us create and manage a project with fairly little stress.

4. Calm

One of my favourite sites is Simply put it has a collection of video paired with audio tracks that play on loop in the background. I use this all the time when I really have to focus on a task. It has a decent selection of backgrounds to choose and some neat video. When you’re feeling particularly stressed or unfocused you can select a guided or unguided meditation session. It can be as short as 2 minutes. It helps you re-adjust your posture, focus on your breathing, and you’re good to go.

One last thing

These are all just things. Everyone thinks, works, and lives differently. Depending on the work you do, or how your brain works, none of these methods may work for you. Ultimately, this is about customizing your workspace to make things work for you, keep your sanity and keep your stress levels low.

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