“Distractions destroy action. If it’s not moving towards your purpose, leave it alone.” — Jermaine Riley
Almost everything around you is designed to steal your attention.
That’s why it’s essential to learn how to shield yourself and develop your ability to focus on command.
You will need to fight off five types of distractions, and below you will find different ways that will help you do exactly that.
What are your biggest distractors?
Before we dive into the steps you can take to defeat distractions, first, you need to pinpoint what distractions you have on a daily basis. By distractions, I mean anything that can pull you away from the activity you should be doing.
Open a digital note, or take a piece of paper and write down what are your biggest distractors, and what you can do to solve them.
Let’s dive into different distractions and most efficient ways you can overcome them. Note that some of these suggestions are preventive, while others are in-the-moment ways you can reduce, or completely remove distractions.
Our ability to take care of ourselves physically is a type of the distraction that is often overlooked, and it shouldn’t be.
- Find the right amount of sleep — this is by far the biggest reason why people are unproductive. To solve this, don’t follow the standard 8 hours of sleep. Instead, find the right amount of sleep you need, and the optimal time to go to bed and wake up. Then gradually reach those times, and optimize from that point.
- Take naps — The best way to solve random attacks of drowsiness is to take a 30-minute nap. This isn’t meant to recoup for sleep, but to give you a chance to refresh your body and re-center yourself.
- Plan/prepare your meals in advance — Hunger and loud stomach is one of the biggest distractors, so having your meals planned and prepared will save you from distraction of thinking in the moment what you will eat, where and when. Plus you can have healthy snacks (nuts and baby carrots) near you can help you solve this.
- Don’t overeat — This usually slows us down and makes us sleepy. Because of this, try to have a smaller plate and eat until you’re about 70–80% full.
- Hydrate — Dehydration can cause headaches, dry mouth and can distract you from the work at hand. Try to always have a bottle of water near you, you can even add a bit of lemon, mint, ginger and cucumbers if you want to additionally spice up your metabolism and raise the level of anti-oxidants.
- Be careful of caffeine/sugary foods-drinks — This is something you should be careful about, because they are a great way to raise your energy level up, but you can experience energy crashes after the effect wears off.
- Pay attention to your posture — Sitting down, especially in a bad position can cause all sorts of problems on a long run. So make it a habit to take 2–3 minutes of your day, couple of times and stretch. Especially your lower back.
- Take walks — As someone who’s in front of a computer every day, I strongly suggest that you get up every hour or two, and take at least couple of hundreds of steps — even in the office. This will not only raise your energy level, but will help you lose a couple of extra calories — and I have a feeling all of us need this :)
Consider mental distractions to be any thoughts unrelated to the task at hand.
- Schedule your day — not knowing what your priorities are for each day is one of the biggest reasons most people lose a lot of time by determining what they should be working on. That’s why each night you should set priorities for the next day, so you have more control over what you want to execute. You don’t have to pinpoint every single minute, instead try to have 3 big things you want to finish each day.
- Low distraction periods — Utilize time when distractions are naturally rare — such as early morning, when the sounds are low, no colleagues, traffic and so on.
- Recalibrate — A lot of things happen before the work itself — from traffic, to interacting with other people, something might worry you, so it makes a lot of sense to take a few minutes, leave that behind, and see what’s the first thing you want to focus on.
- Breathe intentionally — perhaps the most common recommendation is that deeper breathing which utilises the diaphragm and abdomen more can encourage a more relaxed and confident mood.
- Pinpoint your inefficient hours — Everybody has their own natural working rhythm. If you don’t already know it, I suggest that you track your energy and efficiency levels to see what time of the day you have the highest output. Personally, my most inefficient hours are from 14h to 16h — no matter what I do, I just can’t keep my head up. Ergo, the nap.
- Take breaks — After a while, no matter how much efficient work you did, it happens that you are staring at the screen without actually being focused. So getting up and taking a 5 minute break can give you a chance to refresh and come back to your task with more focus.
- Use Guiding Questions — Questions are a great way to reach the logical part of our brain and let it naturally find the right answers. Here are two that could be useful: Is this worth my time? What should my focus be?
- Have deadlines — For each task you have, estimate how much time it will take you to finish, and stick to that as a deadline. This will give you a positive pressure and increase the level of efficiency.
- Meditate — Next thing you can do is meditation, which is a great way to refresh your mental state, and if nothing, just to zone out and catch your breath. This also drastically reduces your level of stress.
- Track time — I challenge you to this for a day, and you will be amazed how much time is wasted, and how. You can use TOGGL, or Eternity app (IOS). Both are free for basic version which is more than enough.
When we are not as invested in the task at hand, we often act as CROWS; we look for anything shiny around us that will distract us from doing work.
- Work in a quiet environment — If possible, even for an hour or two, remove yourself from the busy office, where you are surrounded by people and find a small corner to work in. Or something similar. Usually when people cannot see you, they are less likely to look for you.
- Declutter — Take a look at your home/work area and eliminate trash, everything that is unpractical and distracting.
- Organize — Have primary and secondary work area. Everything that you use on a daily basis, place on the primary work area, and everything you use on a weekly/monthly basis move to the secondary work area (such as books, cables, printer, photos, staplers, and other items).
- Follow this simple rule — Every object should have its place. Once you finish using it, immediately return it to where it belongs. This will not only keep everything organized, but will help you find items when you need them.
This is probably the most time consuming, and diverse type of a distraction.
- Declutter your computer — When it comes to using your computer, for the offline use I suggest you keep your apps and folders organized, and to the minimum. Everything that’s not used on a weekly — bi-weekly basis should be deleted, or moved to an external drive.
- Declutter your phone — I suggest you delete every app that doesn’t contribute any of your goals, and it’s just a waste of time. Then place on your first screen applications you use on a daily basis, and move everything else to the second and third screen — making it more difficult to access.
- Move your phone out of reach — Then, whenever you work, place your phone out of the arms reach, turn off the internet so you don’t get notifications.
- Customize your notifications — I suggest that you turn off locked screen notifications. This will reduce your visual distractions, because most of us pick up the phone, the moment we see a new notification. You can keep the notification for calls, but for social media and emails keep it off.
- Go offline — Yup, if nothing pops up, nothing can distract you.
- Limit your internet use with software/extensions — For your computer, you can install software called SelfControl (source) a free Mac application to help you avoid distracting websites, for Windows the alternative is Cold Turkey (source).Or you can install extensions called StayFocusd (Source) or Gofuckingwork (source) — both are free and work well.
- Set rules for email use — When it comes to emails and social media, I suggest you create rules for yourself to check them only at a specific time of the day. Plus, I respond to them the moment I read them, so I don’t have to read them twice, and lose time.
- Set rules for social media apps — Try not to open social media apps for the first hour or two. This will decrease the external stimuli, and will help you focus on your thoughts, so you can have higher level of control over your day.
Install Newsfeed Eradicator — It’s an extension for Facebook, which completely removes social feed, and replaces it with inspirational quotes.
Now, this is something you don’t have that much control over, but you can still do a couple of things that might help you reduce them.
- Communicate your working style — Each person has their own way of working, and it makes a lot of sense to set aside a couple of minutes of your time, to set expectations with your colleagues and family. People usually respect this when you ask them politely and respectfully, so there is nothing to lose.
- Use your headphones — Music is by far the best way to enter the state of flow, and maintain one. But if you don’t like listening to music, you can just wear headphones and people will assume that you are not to be disturbed.
- If interrupted, say: “I’m focused right now, but I’ll get back to you when I finish the task at hand” or you can scream suddenly, this will make them less likely to interrupt you next time.
- Block your time — Try scheduling a meeting with yourself, and treating it as such. In my previous company, we used public calendars, and I would have 2–3 blocks of my time schedule, as if I have a normal meeting, and when people see this, they assume I am already busy.
- Say NO to meetings — that don’t have an outcome, agenda and facilitator defined. I usually ask what is the desired outcome, and in case one isn’t created, I ask to be excused until they need me to discuss my area of expertise.Sometimes it doesn’t work, but for the times it does, you will save time which you can invest in something else.
- Schedule meetings in a row — There is nothing worse than having meetings spread all throughout the day, because you barely have an hour of your time to do some focused work. So if you can, try to schedule meetings you have in a row, so you can at least have some time to execute some tasks.
One more thing you should keep in mind
Distractions are just one side of the coin. The other side is the cost of activity transfer. Which means that every time you focus on a task at hand, and something breaks that focus, you need to invest a couple of minutes to regain it again and enter the state of flow.
Because of it, you need to learn how to remove as many distractions as possible, and minimize them from appearing, so you can maintain the state of flow for as long as possible.
This alone will skyrocket your productivity.
Before you go…
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