How To Squash Distractions

It’s a pretty terrible feeling looking back on a day of work and realizing how little of it was actually spent well. Switching between open tabs — a little credit card payment here, an email check there — and phone notifications — just a quick peak at my Instagram likes — while your top priority remains pieced together over the course of some six distracted hours.

For those who need to be self-motivated to get work done — students, freelancers, budding entrepreneurs, digital nomads — adequately managing your time to get the most of your work period is a known challenge. But even those in a structured working environment can have trouble staying on task: around a quarter of employees are distracted either by their phone, social media, personal email, or office chatter during a regular workday.

While distractions may be the arch-nemesis of productive work, it doesn’t make them inevitable. What’s notable about the workplace statistic above is that there are a whole 75% of you who don’t get easily distracted — a segment of the population to whom I applaud.

But if you do happen to fall in the less-than-focused percentile, consider these tips to begin managing your time more effectively.

1. Get organized on paper

At the beginning of each week, and then again at the beginning of each day, the most important thing you should be doing is writing a to-do list. I say writing because it is indeed something you should be writing down — on paper. Your phone or computer screen are two places where distractions do inevitably exist, so your to-do list should be in a place where you can see it — directly in your line of vision — and be reminded of nothing else.

Write your to-do list in order of priority and difficulty, saving the easiest tasks for last. You’ll want to do them first (because they’re easier and you’d like to procrastinate) but the tasks that need more of your attention should be tackled before. Getting the more boring or difficult stuff out of the way early makes the work period seem less daunting as time goes on.

2. Work on the clock — literally

Focused work in timed intervals is an effective way to stay productive while enjoying brief breaks. An infamous method for this is the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is that you spend 25 minutes focused on one task (presumably one of the tasks you’ve prioritized in your to-do list) followed by a 5 minute break. Continue to work in these 30 minute intervals, increasing your break time to 15 minutes if you’ve hit four intervals in a row. Effectively, in two hours, you will have had 100 minutes of relentless focus and 20 minutes worth of breaks.

The Pomodoro Technique is highly valuable for anyone working solo — but it can also be put to good use in an office environment. I’d recommend its original format — a kitchen timer along with a pen and paper to tally your intervals — but these free Pomodoro apps works almost as effectively.

3. Take better breaks

One often overlooked part of focused work is how to effectively spend your breaks. If you’re working alone, it’s likely you’ll use the time to check your messages or notifications, or get in a good scroll through Facebook or your favourite website; while in an office setting, you might be more inclined to go chat in the break room.

A much better way to spend your breaks is to replenish — stand up, stretch your arms, legs, and back, and drink an entire bottle of water in one go. Use a longer break to eat something small, and walk outside to soak in the sunlight and fresh air.

If you do these during your breaks, rather than stay put or inside, you’ll find yourself less likely to crash mid-day. Besides, knocking back water over coffee and absorbing vitamin D are pretty essential (and healthy) habits to get into.

4. Make it a point to block distractions

What I’ve said so far suggests that you’re already capable of blocking distractions and that you’re this highly focused, disciplined, and motivated person. I realize that may not be the case.

So if your challenge is keeping distractions outside of your line of focus in the first place, then your computer and smartphone need some tweaking.

If you need some access to your phone (like the calendar or phone calls) but want to hide distracting and tempting apps, then try Flipd. You can use it to make your downloaded apps disappear for an amount of time that you choose — meaning it literally hides Instagram and Trivia Crack from you. It’s the equivalent of uninstalling every app on your phone for a few hours while you get shit done.

If you find your distractions are more web-based, try browser extensions like Cold Turkey or Self Control which both block websites that you’d like to limit access to during a custom schedule.

Even a single hour of uninterrupted focus is going to be more valuable to your productivity than three hours with distractions. But the important (and often disregarded) key to productive work is intentionally benefiting from your breaks. Drinking water, stretching, and giving your brain a much-needed (and deserved) rest from consumption are what will ultimately help you succeed.

If you enjoyed this, please tap “recommend”, or for further reading, check out the publication Human Output.

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