It’s been just over a decade since the first iPhone was released. For most people, this is considered the first piece of “modern” technology. It’s creation marked the beginning of a new interconnected era for the world and its people.
Students no longer have to commute to the library to find resources. Working professionals no longer have to travel hundreds of miles to talk to coworkers on the other side of the planet.
If I wanted to talk to a friend right now, I could talk to them in a variety of ways regardless of their location — calling, voice chatting, Snap Chat, instant messaging. Within ten years of today, we could have holographic communication. The possibilities are endless.
We find ourselves in an interconnected world fueled by the Internet of Things (IoT). We can tap into the world’s resources — an endless supply of information about our society, humankind, and even the world — almost at will through our phones, tablets, and laptops. Even our cars and homes are connected to the internet.
While computers and servers are built to handle this massive flow of information, the human brain is not. We are constantly pulled in a million different directions by social media, text messages, missed calls, emails, and phone notifications.
With all of this “noise” from the world around us, we find it hard to focus on what matters to us, and far easier to get distracted.
At the same time though, we still have more work to do than ever before. Students find themselves struggling to maintain a massive workload and good grades to get into top colleges. Entrepreneurs make a living showing the world what they’ve built, often managing social media, business operations, and their product all the while.
The distractions we face from the world around us, especially on the internet, make it hard to concentrate on finishing the massive amounts of work we have.
We’ve developed a short term attention span, to the point that any mobile phone notification can call our attention away from our work. In turn, we can’t work efficiently anymore. We can’t focus.
The more connected the world is, the more distracted we become. The more we succumb to these distractions, the shorter our attention span becomes. And the shorter our attention span becomes, the longer it takes to get work done. You can probably see where I’m going with this.
But we can fight these distractions. These habits have increased my productivity many times over, and I think that they can work for everybody.
“The best way to become more productive is not to increase your focus, but to decrease your distractions.”
Your Phone is Your Biggest Distraction
In our society today, almost everyone has a smartphone — a small electronic device with access to the internet and its resources. While this grants us access to useful and insightful information, this also grants us access to a world of distractions at all times. Social media has become an addiction for many, and mobile games have become more popular than even the most developed of console games.
Overcoming the distractions that come with having a phone today is a huge part of staying focused.
1. Put your phone on airplane mode
When you want to get some serious work done, consider turning on airplane mode and turn off your wifi connection.
This prevents any notifications that may disrupt your workflow from appearing, such as messaging and social media notifications.
This embodies the concept of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. If you are completely oblivious to the distraction, then you never become distracted in the first place.
Don’t worry about those notifications coming your way — they’ll still be there when you finish your work session.
2. Organize your phone to make distractions harder to access
The first thing I see when I open my phone is all of my social media apps — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Linkedin, etc.
Social media applications are created to be addictive to create the highest possible revenue for the developers. By having these apps on your home page, you create the temptation to click into your social media, and therefore the temptation to become distracted and unproductive.
If I’ve learned anything about human behavior, it’s that we are less likely to do things if they are more labor intensive. This even applies to scrolling through mobile applications. By placing my social media apps on the fifth page of my phone, I make it harder to access, and therefore easier to resist. In layman’s terms, the harder something is to access, the less likely I will do it.
Make it so that your most distracting apps are in the most obscure place on your phone as possible, perhaps in a random folder on a random page on your phone. By making it harder to find, you make it easier to resist the addictive pull of social media.
3. Regulate your music
When regulating your music, follow these guidelines
- Avoid lyrics — rather than following the words in your music, follow the words in your assignment or project. You most likely can’t focus on both at the same time, and you’re more than likely shifting your attention between the two.
- Keep it slow — fast paced music is great, but distracting. It’s harder to focus on what you’re working on when your trying to keep up with the pace of a fast song.
- Turn the volume down — this is pretty self explanatory. You can’t focus if your music prevents you from hearing your own thoughts.
- Limit your playlist — we are more likely to be distracted by new and interesting sounds and songs. Keep your attention on your work by limiting your work playlist to songs you’ve listened to before.
If these smartphone tips don’t work for you, and you still find yourself distracted, put your phone away entirely. This extends off of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ concept again, but makes distractions even less likely to occur.
Separate your work and play areas
This tip is probably one of the more undervalued tips in productivity and self development. Human beings naturally use association to determine the nature of the items we encounter. This allows us to determine what is good and what is bad.
Taste and smell is a good example. Say we are at a supermarket that has a stall giving away free samples of a new type of sausage.
If we are offered a sausage with a spicy and fragrant smell, then we are more likely to try a free sample. If the sausage smells ‘off’ or uncooked, then we are less likely to try the free sample.
In other words, we’ve associated the smell of the sausage with its taste without having tasted it in the first place. By creating associations, we put ourselves in the best position to make good choices and decisions (in this case, we decreased the risk of getting food poisoning).
Now imagine that you are a working professional, an entrepreneur, or in my case, a college bound student, programmer, and blogger.
One of the most detrimental things to my work productivity is when I am distracted by anything that I consider ‘play’ — social media, video games, etc. In this case, I’ve let ‘play’ spill over into my ‘work’.
Instead of having one area for both work and play, consider having one area for each. For example, my ‘play’ area is the living room. It has access to the television, better internet connection to stream videos, and access to the kitchen. My work area is specifically the desk in the corner of the bedroom. I have access to all of my schoolwork, supplies, and anything I might need to write, program, or work. More importantly, it’s a quiet, organized space away from the rest of the household, which enables me to think clearly and effectively.
Keeping ‘play’ away from ‘work’ is the primary benefit of compartmentalizing the two, but another key benefit is the converse — keeping ‘work’ out of ‘play’.
One of the best ways to recharge from a deep intensive workflow is to switch your mind 100% off. This means no (or very few ‘urgent’) work notifications, emails, and messages.
‘Playing’ in your work area makes it harder to relax — you’ve placed yourself in the one place where the most stress in your life occurs. That makes it much harder to completely relax and recover.
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