Everyone zones out every once in a while. Some days in the office are harder than others. But when you find yourself zoning out day after day, it begins to affect your work performance. For most people, a downward trend in work performance results in the eventual layoff. In order to get your career (and personal life) back on track, you need to address your ‘spacing out’ problem.

Know when you have a problem

Don’t mistake a day or two of brain fog for an intense case of depression, but don’t rule it out. If you start to notice that you’re out of it two days of every week, you may have a bigger problem on your hands than an ‘off’ day.

Excessive zoning out often lives in the depression family and is known as dissociation. Like a lot of mental health illnesses, it exists on a spectrum with sufferers feeling varying degrees of disassociation. In it’s most severe form, dissociative disorders can prevent an individual from leading a normal life. When a person suffers from dissociation, their mind detaches from their body in different severities.

On the moderate level, sufferers have reported zoning out for a few minutes, forgetting how long they’ve been driving or unable to remember the last few minutes. On a severe level, sufferers describe the experience as an out of body feeling where your mind exists outside of your body.  In the work environment, this is often the difference between a few minutes staring at a white wall or thirty minutes spent unable to connect with their body in the material world.

Identify your patterns

The first step to any personal development is identifying a pattern and creating a plan to take steps towards change. In the case of zoning out, this means doing your best to identify when you’re zoning out. Keep a journal or running list of when you zone out, what you’re doing, and where you are. Though you may not be able to catch yourself until you’ve snapped back to reality, it’s a good way to roughly identify the triggers to your disassociation.

If you’re struggling to identify them, ask for help. Talk to a trusted coworker and ask them to help you real your focus back in by tapping you on the shoulder when you’re zoning out. Once you’re able to identify patterns or ‘triggers’ that lead to your zoning out issues, you can begin to find a good way to conquer it.

Practice grounding techniques (even when you’re not zoning out)

Grounding techniques can help you recenter your focus and complete your workload. If your zoning out has started to diable your daily life, grounding techniques may be able to help you reign in your focus. Here are a few you can try at your desk:

  1. Keep a small vial of peppermint oil on your desk. When you catch yourself zoning out, smell the peppermint oil. Peppermint oil has been proven to increase functionality by increasing blood flow to the brain.
  2. Do chair yoga. Developed by Lakshmi Voelker-Binder in the 1980s, chair yoga is a great way to activate your body in the otherwise restrictive environment. Physical activity will help you connect with your body.
  3. Try to describe your sense. On a scrap piece of paper, take note of your sense. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you feel? And so on. Taking the time to notice your senses can help you connect with your body and effectively ‘zone’ back into what you’re doing.
  4. Write a to-do list. If you’re unable to stay focussed or organize your work from zoning out, try writing a to-do list. A to-do list can help you focus by providing you with a visual for what you need to accomplish in a given workday.

If none of these appeals to you, create your own exercise. Think about small habits that have always helped you focus. For some, that’s as simple as listening to a podcast or listening to music as they work.

Seek out professional help if you need it

If self-help isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. As we mentioned above, zoning out is a form of depression. If it interferes with your day-to-day life and seems to be quelled by nothing, you may want to visit a counselor or mental health professional. There is no shame in seeking help when you need it.

If you’re worried about holding your job, visit your human resources department and let them know you’re seeking out professional help for your depression. After all, your employer can’t empathize with the problems they don’t know about. In fact, keeping a clear line of communication with your employer is the easiest way to protect your job.

To recap, zoning out can be as simple as staring at a white wall a little too long or as complex as a disassociative disorder. When it comes to maintaining focus in the workplace, it’s your job to figure out how serious your zoning out problem is and react accordingly. Grounding techniques can help you maintain your focus, but if you need professional help- don’t be afraid to seek it.

How have you overcome zoning out at work? Have any techniques of your own that have helped? Share your story in the comments.

By Eddy

Eddy is the editorial columnist in Business Fundas, and oversees partner relationships. He posts articles of partners on various topics related to strategy, marketing, supply chain, technology management, social media, e-business, finance, economics and operations management. The articles posted are copyrighted under a Creative Commons unported license 4.0. To contact him, please direct your emails to [email protected].