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5 Proven Techniques to Stay Focused & Kill Distractions

5 Proven Techniques to Stay Focused & Kill Distractions

Ever experienced this? You get to the office, have a cup of coffee, and get ready to start your day. But from the minute your colleagues start, that’s it, somehow, all you had planned goes out of the door – your attention gets hijacked by a steady stream of ad hoc requests and petty issues.

It’s not until everyone leaves again that you can go back to the working on the important things. The only problem is, it becomes tough to leave the office on time. It’s little wonder that a recent study by Deloitte showed that two thirds of corporate workers feel “overwhelmed”, and 80% wanted to do fewer hours.

My own study, with 390 working professionals, showed similar results. Many said it was difficult to stay focused because of ongoing distractions. And that’s why I wrote this article. What follows are five key strategies to improve your focus and reduce distraction.

1. Clarify Your End Goal

There many places you could put your attention. But how do you know what’s best? Imagine a military commander getting ready for battle. If he’s good, before any fighting happens, he rallies his troops and he details a thorough strategy for dealing with the enemy.

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By giving his troops this clarity, he drastically improves their chances of being victorious. Similarly, setting well defined goals clarifies what you’re shooting for. It puts your efforts in context. It keeps you on track. It gives you indications of where to start. The first step in improving your focus is defining your goals. There are various ways to do that, but for the sake of brevity, let’s keep this simple.

  • Take a few minutes to brainstorm a list of things that you desire in your career and your life. When coming up with ideas, don’t judge yourself or limit your desires. Simply write down whatever excites you, however big or small they are. Nobody else needs to see this. You’re simply exploring different possibilities.
  • Give your goals some concreteness. Be specific. Provide details about what defines successful outcomes, and when you realistically expect to achieve results.
  • Once you’ve got several ideas going, rank them in order of their importance. The top few items on that list should motivate you. (If they don’t, you need to keep at it until you have a list of things that get you excited.)

2. Know Where to Focus

Out of your list of goals, choose one on which to place most your focus. The one goal you select, when completed, should help you achieve many of your other goals. It’s like killing five birds with one stone. This might sound counter intuitive, but you’ll achieve more when you focus on one thing for extended periods of time, than if you multitask.

Next, break your goal down into smaller pieces. Doing so will give you clarity about the specific steps you need to take. It will also give you motivation, because a series of small efforts are far easier to imagine than a single big one.

Try to sequence your efforts to give yourself the biggest advantage upfront. The faster you benefit from your efforts, the better.
Once you have prioritized your steps, you’ll have confidence your focus is on the right thing. You’ll also feel like you’re being responsible towards the other people you work with.

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3. Access Maximum Willpower

As you tackle your goals, you may struggle. And maintaining focus amid difficulties takes willpower. In the 1960s, researcher Walter Mischel performed a famous study The Marshmallow Experiment with preschoolers. Experimenters offered the kids a single marshmallow, and were told that if they could wait until the attendant returned, they’d receive an additional one. Certain kids found ways to resist the urge to eat the marshmallow, while others didn’t.

Years later, in a follow up study, Mischel found that those with higher levels of self control experienced more positive outcomes, compared to the other subjects. Developing this idea further, in 1998, studies by Roy Baumeister demonstrated how willpower behaves like a muscle. For example, willpower becomes weaker with exertion, but when rested, it recovers again. When you use willpower on one task, you have less for subsequent ones.

Even seemingly harmless things like seeing an email notification, or hearing a phone alert, depletes your reserves. Hence, when working on your day’s main focus, you must reserve enough willpower so you can get it done. That’s why I recommend you work on your key task first, before email or meetings – because that’s when you still you have plenty of ‘juice left in the tank’.

4. Shield Yourself From Distractions

Distractions like email alerts, social media updates, surfing the web, playing games, phone calls, and work colleagues asking “Have you got a moment?”, will break your focused flow. If you allow them to happen, distractions will rob you of the opportunity to complete important tasks.

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Now, while you can’t eliminate all distractions, it’s certainly possible to minimize most. Here’s how:

  • Clear your desk and office of clutter. Only have things on your desk that you need for the task at hand.
  • During focused work periods, hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door.
  • Close all applications and browser windows that you’re not immediately using for the task at hand. Mute all phone, email, social media, and Internet notifications. (Set aside a window of time during the day when you can batch process these types of activities in one go.)

5. Take Frequent Breaks

Like a muscle, your willpower somewhat recovers when you rest, making it easier to maintain focus throughout the entire day. That’s why you should get into the habit of taking short, frequent breaks. Some people find it difficult stop what they’re doing. To handle this, I find it’s best to use an alarm or egg timer. When the alarm goes off, that reminds you to take a break.

This is how to use a timer to manage your work periods:

  • Set the timer to between 25 – 50 minutes. If you find yourself craving to do something distracting like reading email, social media, or web surfing, experiment with shortening the work duration.
  • Focus intensely on the task at hand. Do not allow yourself to deviate.
  • When the timer goes off, immediately stop. Take 5 minutes to physically get up, walk around, drink a glass of water, get some air, or do some stretches.

Bringing It All Together

While we live in a frantic world, it doesn’t mean that you have to be. When you are clear about your goals, the steps for getting there, how to leverage your willpower, and how to stay focused, you will make steady progress.

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The 5 strategies I’ve shared here will help you toward that end. At first, they might might seem tricky. But over time, with practice, you’ll become more and more proficient. If I’ve provoked your thoughts on this subject, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: Depositphotos via depositphotos.com

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5 Proven Techniques to Stay Focused & Kill Distractions

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Last Updated on October 14, 2018

Don’t Think You’re a Creative Person? You Can Definitely Change That

Don’t Think You’re a Creative Person? You Can Definitely Change That

Do you think of yourself as a creative person? Do you play the drums or do watercolor paintings? Perhaps compose songs or direct plays? Can you even relate to any of these so called ‘creative’ experiences?

Many people have this common assumption that creativity is an inborn talent, whereby only a special group of people are inherently creative–everyone else just unfortunately does not have that special ability. But, this is far from the truth!

So what is creativity?

Everyone Can Be Creative!

The fact is, that everyone has an innate creative ability. Despite what most people may think, creativity is a skill that everyone can learn. It’s a skill with huge leverage that allows you to generate enormous amounts of value from relatively little input. How is that so?

You’ll have to start by expanding your definition of creativity. Creativity isn’t just about making art or ‘thinking out of the box’. Creativity at its heart, is being able to see things in a way that others cannot. It’s a skill that helps you find new perspectives to create new possibilities and solutions to different problems.

So, if you encounter different challenges and problems that need solving on a regular basis, then creativity is an invaluable skill to have.

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Let’s say, for example, that you work in sales. Having creativity will help you to look for new ways to approach and reach out to potential customers. Or perhaps you’re a teacher. You have to constantly look for new ways to deliver your message and educate your students.

How Creativity Really Works

Let me break another misconception about creativity — which is that it’s only used to create completely “new” or “original” things. Again, this is far from the truth. Because nothing is ever completely new or original.

Everything, including works of art, doesn’t come from nothing. Everything derives from some sort of inspiration. That means that creativity works by connecting things together in order to derive new meaning or value.

From this perspective, you can see lots of creativity in action. In technology, Apple combines traditional computers with design and aesthetics to create new ways to use digital products. In music, a musician may be inspired by certain styles of music, instruments and rhythms to write a new song.

All of these examples are about connecting different ideas, finding common ground amongst the differences, and creating a completely new idea out of them.

Creativity Needs an Intention

Another misconception about the creative process is that you can just be in a general “creative” state.

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Real creativity isn’t about coming up with “eureka!” moments for random ideas. Instead, to be truly creative, you need to have a direction. You have to ask yourself this question:

“What problem are you trying to solve?”

Only by knowing the answer to this question can you start flexing your creativity muscles.

Often times, the idea of creativity is associated with the ‘Right’ brain, with intuition and imagination. Hence a lot of focus is placed on the ‘Right’ brain when it comes to creativity.

But to get the most out of creativity, you need to utilize both sides of your brain, Right and Left, which means using the analytical and logical part of your brain, too.

This may sound surprising to you, but creativity has a lot to do with problem solving. And, problem solving inherently involves logic and analysis. So instead of throwing out the ‘Left’ brain, full creativity needs them to work in unison.

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For example, when you’re looking for new ideas, your ‘Left’ brain will guide you to a place of focus, which is based on your objective behind the ideas you’re searching for. The ‘Right’ brain then guides you to gather and explore based on your current focus.

And, when you decide to try out these new ideas, your ‘Right’ brain will give you novel solutions outside of the ones you already know. Your ‘Left’ brain then helps you evaluate and tune the solutions to work better in practice. So logic and creativity actually work hand in hand, and not one at the expense of the other.

Creativity is a Skill

At the end of the day, creativity is a skill. It’s not some innate or natural born talent that some have over others. What this means is that creativity and innovation can be practiced and improved upon systematically.

A skill can be learned and practiced by applying your strongest learning styles. Want to know what your learning style is? Try this test.

A skill can also be measured and improved through a Feedback Loop, and can be continuously upgraded over time by regular practice. Through regular practice, your creativity goes through different stages of proficiency. This means that you can become more and more creative!

If you never thought that creativity was relevant to you, or that you don’t have a knack for being creative… think again! You can use creativity in any aspect of your life. In fact you should use it, as it will allow you to to break through your usual loop, get you out of your comfort zone, and inspire you to grow and try new things.

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Creativity will definitely give you an edge when you’re trying to solve a problem or come up with new solutions.

Start Connecting the Dots!

Excited to start honing your creativity? Here at Lifehack, we’ve got a wealth of knowledge to help. We understand that creativity is a matter of connecting things together in order to derive new meaning or value.

So if you want to learn how to start connecting the dots, simply subscribe to our newsletter today. In it, you’ll find out how to make use of crucial skills that will push you towards a life transformation– one that you never thought possible. Your personal growth is our commitment.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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