We live in a distracted world where focusing on ONE thing at a time has become hard or even impossible for us. Research shows that when we get distracted, it takes us an average of 23 minutes to fully focus on our previous task again.
But how can we NOT be distracted? We are constantly bombarded with new information and messages— on multiple channels AND on multiple devices. And if it’s not email, Slack and social media that distract us, it’s the people around us or our mind wandering or running off to websites we shouldn’t be spending time on.
Distraction is everywhere and nowhere. But the truth is: we choose to be distracted.
And we can choose not to be.
Being reactive instead of proactive is one of the 4 deadly mistakes that ruin your productivity. (If you are interested in learning about all 4 mistakes and how to fix them, you can sign-up for my FREE WEBINAR which plays anytime here.)
The key to true focus and insane productivity is to proactively manage your vices! Here are 5 ways you can do that:
1. Have a dedicated “no-distraction” place
Works Best When: You are distracted by everyone and everything.
Consciously design an environment that allows you to go into deep work mode. This could be your office, your room, your favorite coffee shop or a free conference room — it is not as much about the place but more about the environment itself. You need to find a way to signal your brain and the outside world that you are going into deep work mode and may not be disturbed. If you are in an office with many people, this could mean closing your door or putting on your headphones to signal your colleagues that you should not be disturbed.
Take-Away: Get creative with engineering your environment for optimal focus.
2. Set rules with the people you live & work with
Works Best When: You are constantly interrupted by other people.
Have an open conversation with the key people in your work and life and agree on a couple of rules that allow all of you to get stuff done. Here are a few examples:
- Agreeing on certain “no-distraction” times that you will keep meeting-, email- and interruption-free (e.g. mornings from 9 am to 11 am).
- Using breakfast, lunch and coffee breaks to talk things over with your boss, answer open questions from your interns or discuss who is picking up the kids after school with your partner.
- Deciding on which issues and questions are classified as urgent (e.g. when someone else is entirely blocked to continue with their work) and which topics to keep for a later time.
- Setting up regular meetings for specific topics: Doing a weekly meeting with your boss and with your own direct reports where you discuss objectives, updates and open questions for the week can be a great way to reduce unnecessary distractions. The same works at home: sitting down on Sunday to discuss the most important organizational points with your partner can spare you a lot of back and forth messages and phone calls that interrupt your work during the week.
- Doing “Office Hours”: Pick a timeslot every day (e.g. for 1 hour after lunch) where your doors are open and your team can just come and ask you anything. That way, you can give your team full attention and give them the support they need each day without messing with your own deep work time.
Take-Away: Be proactive about when and how you communicate with the key people in your life and work.
3. Use apps that temporarily block access to certain sites & apps
Works Best When: You get lost on social media or YouTube Binges.
Technology can be a powerful helper for improving your self-control. Features vary, but tools like StayFocusd or Offtime allow you to track & limit the time spend on certain sites and apps — or even entirely block you from using them during certain times. To get the most out of this strategy, make a list of the sites and apps that distract you most often when working on your important tasks and think of limitation rules that make the most sense for you personally. With a little bit of experimentation, these tools can be an absolute productivity lifesaver.
Take-Away: Use technology to manage technology.
4. Set specific times for everything:
Works Best When: You are checking your email every 10 minutes.
Did you know that it takes you up to 23 minutes to get your full focus back on your task after being interrupted? Well, imagine that happens multiple times a day when you check your emails every time you get one. To avoid falling into this never-ending distraction trap, schedule dedicated time slots for attacking your inbox and systematically work through all your emails at once. For the rest of the time, turn off email notifications entirely or use a tool like IFTT to send you a text message when you get an email from a specific email address (e.g. your boss, your investor or a high priority client).
Take-Away: Manage email like a boss instead of being a slave to your inbox.
5. Use the Pomodoro Technique to fully focus for 25 min and then take a break
Works Best When: You struggle with focusing on one thing at a time.
The Pomodoro Technique is probably the most powerful productivity strategy for fully focusing on ONE thing for a specified period of time. It works like this: Split your tasks into chunks of 25 minutes. Then, shut off all your distractions and set your timer. After your Pomodoro, take a 5-minute break before starting the next one. Because of its gamification effect, this technique really works like magic. There is even apps that help you using this technique like Focus Keeper and Focus Booster.
Take-Away: Work in focused sprints where you shut out all distractions and just do ONE thing.