You can use measurements of your heart rate variability (HRV) to improve how effectively you concentrate when you work. When engaged in thoughtful work on your own and your prefrontal cortex is fully engaged your heart rate variability will be high enough that you will not show sustained stress. My experience applying techniques that kept me engaged yielded more output and I felt more relaxed when the session was over.
I had explored work session hygiene techniques in past work that I called returning to poise. In those sessions I had discovered that I was more engaged and less stressed when:
- I set aside a fixed period of time from 25 to 30 minutes,
- there was only one topic I focussed on for that period,
- when I was distracted I used steady breathing to bring my attention back to my task,
- the task at hand was the “right one” and no thoughts of being elsewhere intruded.
Here are four working sessions and how the measurements corresponded with how effectively I used the hygiene techniques. In all sessions I was working in the same office at roughly the same time of day. The topic was the same in all sessions, and I was working alone in the office on my computer doing planning for organizational alignment.
In the first session, I worked without using any of the hygiene factors. I simply put on the heart rate belt and worked. This is the graph of the session:
You can see periodic stress points, where my sympathetic nervous system was firing and it is probable that my prefrontal cortex was not in full gear. I was not doing my best thinking. I logged that I was not sure there was not more important work I should have been doing. This distracted me, and I did not see good results.
Contrast this to a second session of similar length where the topic was important, I had the time set aside and was focussed. You can see the graph here:
Far fewer periods where I was in fight/flight mode. It appears that my belief in the importance of the task reduced the amount of stress. In a 40 minute session again my concentration was high based on the belief I was working on the most important task possible and that I was in the “right place at the right time.”
You can see that even for a longer session the number of fight/flight events were singular and fewer in number. The other hygiene techniques all were in place. The reason for the 40 minutes session was that I engaged enough that I blew right through the time limit.
Finally, I was able to have all the hygiene factors in place for a shorter session and in that I had no fight/flight incidents at all. Here is the graph:
So when working alone it is possible to improve your concentration by developing techniques to keep yourself focussed. When so focussed, your HRV will reflect that you are physiologically in an state of complete engagement. And you will see much improved work output.