How to stop fidgeting and start focusing – quick tips and long-term strategies

by | Fidgeting

Productivity at work or as a student requires attention, discipline, and getting assignments done even at times when we feel unmotivated. Many people find themselves needing fidget to stay focused. But fidgeting isn’t always appropriate in a professional or classroom setting. It can be distracting to others or give them the sense that you’re not paying attention. People who have difficulty staying still are often left wondering how to stop fidgeting.

Here are just a few remarks I’ve heard recently:

I can’t seem to even hear what someone is saying unless my hands are doing something.

If I’m unable to move or fidget when I need to, I get like extremely uncomfortable.

My fidgeting becomes embarrassing, because it’s so obvious and can be distracting to others.

If any of these resonate with you, read on! This article covers a handful of the best advice, tips, and products that will allow you to stay stimulated and keep on task while still satisfying your urge to fidget (discreetly!) or to be doing something with your hands or body.

So, put away your fidget spinners and take a look at these more productive, more subtle, and more satisfying alternatives to fidgeting.

Try a fidget toy that requires you to put it down

The main drawback of fidget spinners and most other fidget toys is twofold:

  1. They take your hands away from your keyboard or pen and paper
  2. They can be distracting to those around you

There are, however, fidget toys that address both of these issues. A spinning top, for example, requires that you set it down to watch it spin. You can roll it around in your hand for a moment, but soon enough you’ll want to spin it. A high-quality metal top can spin for 10 or more minutes, meaning that you’ll have 10 minutes of productivity while it spins.

Similarly, kinetic sculptures or perpetual motion desk toys offering a long duration of movement in response to a short physical interaction. You’re incentivized to get some work done in the midst of their mesmerizing motion.

These types of fidget toys are great for people working in an office setting.

Switch out your noisy, flashy fidget for a quiet, discreet one

But maybe you really like to have something in your hands. Setting down your fidget object for 10+ minutes may seem impossible.

If this is the case for you, try a fidget toy that is both quiet and inconspicuous. For example:

  • Wear a ring that you can take off and fiddle with periodically
  • Carry a worry stone in your pocket or purse
  • Hold a small toy that is soft, squishy, or fuzzy

Many objects being marketed as fidget toys often don’t actually make great fidget toys. Manufacturers don’t always consider how annoying clicking or other noises might be.

Doodle, with intention

When you’re in a position in which it’s inappropriate to be playing with a fidget toy, it may be completely appropriate (or even expected) to be holding a pen and to have a pad of paper in front of you. In these cases, doodling is an excellent alternative to fidgeting.

Says one fidgeter-turned-doodler:

I’m a fan of doodling because most people don’t recognize it as something that you’re doing to stimulate your fingers or mind. People are more likely to accept the “it helps me focus” explanation if they notice you doing it.

Adding some intention to your doodling can be an added benefit. By intention, I mean work toward an end-goal while you doodle. This could mean doodling down a single margin of your paper before you return to writing. Doodle one repeat of a repetitive pattern. Or doodle just one 360-degree pass of a mandala before you redirect your intention. Endpoints or mini-goals are a reminder of what you’re supposed to be focusing on.

Doodling doesn’t take much brain power or creativity, so it enables you to stay focused while still feeding your fidgeting appetite.

Schedule a time for movement or fidgeting

Figuring out how to stop fidgeting completely can be an unattainable objective. Instead, allow yourself to do it – but only at certain times. Schedule time to fidget or to get out of your chair.

This might be a 2-minute fidgeting period after 20 minutes of working. Or it could be a 30-minute slot mid-morning and mid-afternoon in which you allow your pent-up compulsion to fidget to let loose.

This technique has an added bonus:  it results in fidgeting mindfully instead of mindlessly. It requires that you acknowledge when and how you’ll fidget before it actually happens. This increases your awareness of the settings, emotions, and triggers for your fidgeting.

Fidget with your other 4 senses

Fidgeting addresses nervousness, frustration, agitation, or boredom. Therefore, the desire to fidget can often be managed without the use of your hands or your sense of touch. This means you can “fidget” with one of your other senses.

Instead of playing with a fidget toy, try listening to some instrumental music or binaural beats. You’ll likely find yourself more focused. Perhaps you’ll tap a foot or your fingers to the beat of the music, instead of the uncontrolled jiggling you’re used to experiencing.

Alternatively, learn to fidget with your eyes. Keep a small lava lamp on your desk and turn it on when the urge to fidget strikes. Or play a “visual stim” video on your phone off to the side of your workspace.

Try a standing desk or treadmill workstation

Sometimes fidgeting is an indicator that your body simply needs to move. When this is the case, it’s more productive to move your entire body than to move just a few fingers or one leg. Our bodies are meant to move. They aren’t designed to sit in a chair all day.

One way to address a fidgeting urge is to get up and walk around for a few minutes. Another great way is to use a standing desk or a treadmill workstation that allows you to move while you’re at your workstation. You can move your body while simultaneously doing cognitive work.

You’ll find that your need to fidget drastically decreases when you’re strolling slowly on a treadmill while you write emails or listen to lectures.

Do a quick mindfulness exercise

Fidgeting is mindless.

It’s well-accepted that being mindful in whatever we’re working on or listening to is more productive and effective than simply going through the actions. So, when the inclinication to fidget strikes, try completing a short mindfulness exercise instead.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Take several slow, deep breaths, counting to 4 on the way in and 6 on the way out
  • Close your eyes and visualize yourself successfully completing your project or assignment

There are plenty of apps and YouTube videos that offer free guided mindfulness meditations, as well. I like the app Smiling Mind.

Q short mindfulness exercise doesn’t take much time at all, but it can smother the urge to fidget while improving your concentration and stamina at the same time.

Figure out why you get the urge to fidget

Finally, take inventory of your why. By this I mean determine the underlying cause of why you have a tendency to fidget. What works for you in figuring out how to stop fidgeting will depend on why you do it in the first place.

Reasons might be:

  • High levels of stress
  • Symptoms of ADHD
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Too much caffeine
  • Professional burnout

…and many others.

These won’t go away by fidgeting. However, they all can be addressed at their cores. There are great medications for ADHD, for example. Burnout can be cured by a new job or career. Making big changes to your life or habits is never easy, but almost always pays off in the long run.

Learning how to stop fidgeting may take some trial and error

In conclusion, whatever you use to address your urge to fidget, there is no need to allow it to distract you from your own focus or to distract others around you. There are great tools and strategies available to assist, including both mental and physical ones.

Being a fidgeter shouldn’t hold you back. By being deliberate about it, you can actually use it to your advantage. Take a first step toward better productivity by checking out our selection of precision spinning tops that make great fidget toys.

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