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How To Protect Your Focus From Being “Robbed” By Notifications and Social Media

How To Protect Your Focus From Being “Robbed” By Notifications and Social Media

Between a cell phone that’s always ringing, a plethora of social media apps vying for your attention, and a steady stream of text messages, it probably feels like you can never get a moment of peace.

Think about how many times you’ve been working when a notification pops up on your screen. The message might be important, but more often than not, it’s just spam that pulls your focus away from your project.

Imagine all the times you’ve been in a meeting and felt the distinctive buzzing of your cell phone. Putting a smartphone on vibrate doesn’t make it any less disruptive for its owner. You instantly divert your attention from the other human beings in the room to the device in your pocket.

Distractions make you work harder

Studies suggest that the average American worker is interrupted every three minutes and five seconds.[1] An estimated 6 hours of productivity are lost every day to distraction. When someone is interrupted, they not only have to deal with the disruption, but then they have to use even more time and energy to get back into their work.[2]

It’s not only annoying to feel like you can never situate your mind on one task, but it also keeps you from doing your best work. The greatest ideas require time for mental processing. You have to do research and dig deep to come up with exciting ideas. If your focus is shallow, your ideas will never be able to develop to their fullest potential.

Our concentration naturally fluctuates

It would be nice if you could simply disconnect from the internet and have a consistent ability to concentrate, but that’s not how your brain works.

If you were to visualize your concentration throughout an 8-hour work day, it might look like this graph.

Throughout the day, you will experience peaks and valleys in your energy levels. You might feel a jolt of productivity after you go for a walk or have a cup of coffee, but there will also be points in the day–like right after lunch–where you’ll feel sluggish. You create your best work during periods of high energy and focus.

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Protecting those peak periods ensures that you can maximize your work time. When you constantly shift your focus back and forth between your work and distractions, your brain has to work extra hard to get back on track. Opening your Facebook page or replying to your friend’s What’s App message is almost never worth the productivity cost.

You will still have peak moments of productivity when you face interruptions, but the peaks will not be as high. This is because jumping between items wears you out. You lower your potential productivity every time you give in to distraction.

To be successful, you have to root out anything that stands in your way. The inability to concentrate will affect your work performance, but you can take control of the situation.

How to maintain focus in a sea of disruptions

Being able to give your best at work doesn’t mean that you have to disconnect from the world entirely. You can still enjoy the connections you have through technology, but there are a few ways that you can keep them from having a negative impact on your work.

One of the first things that you can do to minimize your distractions is set aside a time for them. Give yourself windows of time when it’s acceptable to look at Facebook or respond to messages.

Start by listing out the things that most commonly distract you. Maybe you get sucked into the rabbit hole of Facebook if you get a notification. Perhaps you find that your friends texting you throughout the day pulls you from work. Whatever it may be, write it down.

Then, set aside a time slot in which you are free to use the apps as you please.

Plan to use your distracting apps during times when you need to restore energy. As you can see from the graph, times when you need to restore your energy are also times when you may not be as productive.

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Instead of giving up peak energy times, sacrifice the time when you aren’t working well to engage with technology. When your recovery time has ended, jump right back into your work.

It might seem counter-intuitive to make time for these distractions during your day, but if you create a schedule that protects periods of peak energy, you will actually boost your productivity. Instead of being inundated with notifications or thinking about the next time when you are allowed to check your messages, you’ll have designated times for that.

Rather than shift your attention at random, you can focus fully on the task at hand until it’s your time to play on social media or check messages. Using this approach can help you regain a lot of your brain power because you won’t have to waste it on refocusing. You’ll simply do less important tasks during natural breaks in your day.

Set up a system to limit distractions

Just because you vow to check your messages and look at social media during certain times doesn’t keep distractions from happening. You’ll need to set up a system to keep disruptions at bay.

You can’t always control when someone is going to send you a message or when you’ll get a notification. You can start by adjusting your settings. Most apps allow you to opt out of notifications. Stop push notifications from non-essential apps.

For everything else, you need a different plan. We may be able to avoid opening social media tabs, but sometimes the messages still pop up on our phones. At the same time, most of us want to continue to use social media to stay connected and receive important information.

Try planting some trees with your concentration

The Forest app helps you train your brain to avoid distractions during work time. You can use Forest on your desktop or smartphone. The app works by enabling you to establish an amount of time during which you do not wish to be interrupted. You can adjust the amount of time from 10 minutes up to several hours.

Refer back to the list of distractions that you made earlier. You can take the websites and apps that drain your time and add them to the Forest’s blacklist.

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    The amount of time that you wish to stay off of distracting websites and apps is called a “planting session.” When you decide that you want to “plant a tree,” the countdown timer starts. If you access a blacklisted website during the time when you are supposed to be working, the app will remind you that your tree is still growing. You will have to decide whether or not you want to kill your tree, which is harder than you might think.

      When you can successfully stay off of distracting sites for the allotted time, your tree grows, and you get coins. The coins will allow you to unlock other types of trees.

        As you continue with your work session, you can see a countdown timer and an animation of a tree growing from a seed to its full splendor. Usually Forest also includes an inspirational saying to keep you on track if your focus starts to drift.

          To make the impact of your efforts even greater, success in Forest also gives you the option to plant a tree in real life.

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          This simple visualization can help you break the bad habit of checking your phone or accessing websites that disrupt your thought processes. When Forest asks you if you would like to “give up” and kill your tree, most often you will realize that the reason you were heading to the blacklisted website wasn’t that important anyway.

          Sometimes you just need a small reminder to stay on task. Use Forest during your peak productivity times so that you don’t waste the most valuable parts of your day.

          You have to identify the distractions before you can stop them

          You may be wondering how much of your peak productivity time you are losing to mindless distractions. The only way to find out is to take a closer look at your habits. Notice the times when you seem to do your best work. Name the sources of notifications and interruptions that decrease your attention. After you have done this, use an app like Forest to cut out the distractions.

          Using Forest will not prevent you from being tired, and it won’t keep you from staring off into space, but it will make you think twice about wasting time on sites that distract you.

          When you are able to experience a distraction-free work environment, you’ll recognize how much more you are able to accomplish. You’ll be able to do your work more efficiently, and you won’t feel the fatigue of constantly re-centering yourself. Soon, your desire to stay focused will be stronger than the temptation to click on your notifications.

          Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek/ Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Brian Lee

          Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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          Last Updated on July 10, 2020

          How to Live Your Best Life Starting Today

          How to Live Your Best Life Starting Today

          As human beings, one of our deepest-rooted desires is to have a meaningful and happy existence. You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Live your best life.” It’s good advice.

          We all want to feel connected to both ourselves and others. We want to feel that we’re part of something important and that we’re making a difference in the world.

          We want to look back at our lives and our achievements and be proud. In short, we want what the saying says: to live our best lives.

          But what does it really mean to live your best life?

          You are a unique individual, so living your best life is exclusive to you. Your best life will reflect your true values. It will be made up of what makes you happy and will be colored by what making a difference means to you.

          What Stops You From Living Your Best Life?

          While living your best life is all about you, what other people think can have an impact on your quest to live your best life.

          Social media, for example, puts us under a lot of pressure. There are specific expectations of what “happy” looks like, and we’re under pressure to conform to what society expects.

          For example, we are pressured to look a certain way, wear the “right” clothes, have exciting adventures with eye-catching friends, eat ethical and healthy food, and do charity work.

          These are only a few of society’s expectations. It’s a long list.

          Social media claims to connect us, but often it can do the opposite.

          We can spend so much time worrying about what other people are doing, trying to live the life that society expects of us, that it can be easy to lose track of what makes us happy and what our best life actually looks like.

          Start the Journey

          What does it look like to live your best life? The following are some practical tips and tools to move from living your current life to living your best life.

          1. Be the Best Version of Yourself

          To live your best life, you must be the best version of yourself. Don’t try to be something or someone else. Don’t try to be what other people want you to be.

          Focus on who you want to be. Play to your strengths and be proud of what makes you different. You are brilliant.

          Gretchen Rubin, in her book Happiness Project, created her own commandments. The first one was “Be Gretchen.” This gave her permission to follow her gut feeling and make up her own rules.

          For example, she stopped forcing herself to enjoy parties, cocktails, and fashion just because that’s what she thought society expected.

          So, inspired by Gretchen, create your own commandment: “Be more YOU,” and remind yourself of this every day, unapologetically.

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          2. Observe Yourself

          To work out what the best you looks like, you must get to know yourself better. It’s your best life after all – not anyone else’s.

          Start to notice how you respond to various situations. What are your habits? What makes you happy? What frustrates you? How do you behave under pressure? What gives you energy? What drains you?

          Spend a week simply noticing. Write your observations down so you remember.

          3. Identify Your Bad Habits

          As part of your observations, start to notice your bad habits. Consider the things that don’t ultimately make you feel good.

          Does scrolling mindlessly through Instagram make you happy? For 5 minutes, perhaps, but for longer?

          That last glass of wine was delicious, but do you pay the price later?

          That chocolate was enjoyable at the moment, but now that the sugar high is over, are you feeling regretful?

          Observe yourself first. Then, start to deliberately do more of the things that make you happy and give you energy.

          At the same time, work on reducing then eliminating the habits that squander your time, drain your energy, and ultimately don’t make you happy.

          Need help conquering your bad habits? Read How to Break Bad Habits Once and For All.

          4. Set Intentions

          After having thought about what makes you happy and what drains your energy, focus on what living the best life looks like for you.

          One of the keys to this is being intentional about it. When you deliberately set intentions, you are more likely to act with purpose and drive.

          Setting intentions is different from setting goals. Goals are your list of things you want to achieve. You can set them daily, monthly, yearly, or a combination.

          A common practice is to define goals and write them down. This makes them more tangible and makes you more accountable, therefore, making the goals more likely to happen.

          The subtle yet important difference between goals and intentions is that when setting intentions, you decide what kind of positive feelings and emotions you are seeking.

          For example, “This week, my intention is to approach my admin tasks with gusto in order to complete them more quickly.”

          Intentions can be more motivating than goals because if you don’t achieve your goal, it can feel like a failure and can ultimately hold you back.

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          If you don’t achieve your intention to approach something in a specific way, you can more easily regroup and have another try.

          Write down your intentions every month, week, or day, using whichever time frame works best for you.

          For example, “I intend to enjoy going swimming three times this week” or “I intend to assertively build my network in my local area this month.”

          Setting intentions gives you something to focus on, and it also helps to manage the feeling of being overwhelmed that often happens when we set ourselves goals.

          5. Visualize Living Your Best Life

          Visualization can help you to cement your intentions. It involves visualizing how it would feel to live your best life once you achieve it.

          It can help you to further establish what you want and allow you to settle into a positive mindset.

          To visualize, first choose your focus. Choose a specific intention and how you will feel once it is accomplished. Then, take the time to daydream and allow your imagination to wander.

          For example, if your intention is going swimming three times a week, imagine what you will look and feel like:

          • What will you wear?
          • How do you get there?
          • What time of day do you go?
          • How do you feel when you’re in the water?
          • How do you feel afterward?

          Ask yourself these little questions and allow yourself to feel the same feelings you would feel if you were currently fulfilling your intention.

          10 Ways to Live Your Best Life

          Now that you’ve decided and visualized what your best life looks like, let’s look at some more practical steps you can take to achieve it.

          1. Focus

          Whatever you do, focus. If you swim, swim. If you study, study. Multitasking is a myth. It’s not possible to do more than one thing at a time well. Focused work is the least tiresome and the most productive type of work.

          Michael LeBouf, the author of The Millionaire in You, said,

          “Winners focus, losers spray.”

          2. Take Responsibility for Taking Action

          Taking action can feel scary. We fear failure, but we can also fear success. It can be easy to feel too busy to achieve your intentions.

          However, you have the choice to take action and live your best life or stay the same. It’s up to you, so take responsibility to take action.

          3. Live in the Present

          Every day is a new opportunity to live your best life. We so often get stuck because we put things off.

          We can think, “When I’ve lost 10 lbs I’ll go swimming,” or “When I feel more confident I’ll look for a new job,” or “When I get my new running shoes I’ll start running.”

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          How about starting from where you are? How about using what you already have?

          We often put off taking action until we have the newest phone/camera/game/course/book/shoes as if they are the keys to happiness. In the process, we forget about what we already have.

          Grab the camera that you have, put on your old running shoes. Go and do something interesting today with what you’ve got. Fancier gadgets, better clothes, or a slimmer body won’t make you better.

          Action will.

          4. Declutter

          This applies to the environment you live in as well as the people you spend time with. Use Marie Kondo’s decluttering method of asking, “Does it bring you joy?”[1]

          If your answer is yes, you keep the item. If you hesitate or say no, you donate it or throw it out. Simple.

          This also applies to people. If there are people in your life that make you feel bad, drain your energy, and don’t bring you joy, let go of them.

          Instead, spend time with the people and activities that give you energy and make you feel good.

          5. Relish the Simple Things

          When we’re busy, we can forget to appreciate what we have. Take time to focus on the simple things. Even when you’re feeling low, there’s always something to be grateful for.

          In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.[2] Be deliberate in being grateful for what you do have, rather than resentful of what you don’t.

          6. Journaling

          Journaling

          is simply writing your thoughts down.

          According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, writing your thoughts and feelings down on paper not only helps you get your thoughts in order, but it can also help ease symptoms of depression and manage stress and anxiety.[3]

          In the chaos of life, it is easy to overthink, feel anxious, or not appreciate what you do have. Journaling can help you manage your thoughts and feelings and productively cope with life.

          Be curious and keep learning. Ask more questions and keep pushing yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and learn.

          What are you interested in or curious about? Perhaps it’s learning more about where you live, or reading up on a particular topic? Maybe it’s traveling to a new town or country?

          According to Dan Pink’s research, learning is a key motivator.[4] Whether you feel like you’ve gotten stuck in a boring routine or you’re stressed by the tasks of daily life, learning something new is a way to step outside yourself and your comfort zone.

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          Create a bucket list of all the things you’d like to do and learn and the places you’d like to go to, and start ticking them off.

          7. Make Someone’s Day

          Being kind to others makes them feel good, and it also releases chemicals in your body that make you feel good. Think about a time you gave someone a gift that they loved. How did you feel?

          You don’t have to start giving people gifts to make someone’s day. Think about small, thoughtful gestures: a genuine compliment, opening the door, offering to help someone.

          All these things can make a big difference in someone’s day.

          8. Look After Your Body

          Eat what nourishes you, including plenty of vegetables and fruit and food that’s natural and unprocessed. Drink plenty of water.

          Exercise because you like it, not because you’re supposed to go to the gym.

          Reject the idea that you have to push yourself really hard at exercise, and instead try out a variety of things – for example, walking the dog, gardening, yoga, swimming, or dancing.

          Find what you enjoy. When you enjoy something, you’ll be motivated to do it more.

          Get good rest! We’re all different in terms of the amount of sleep that we need. However, most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep.

          If you’re not getting that much, then check out healthy sleep tips from the Sleep Foundation.[5]

          More tips for staying healthy: Powerful Daily Routine Examples for a Healthy and High-Achieving You.

          9. Manage Your Inner Critic

          Most people have an inner critic that tells them they are not good enough, that they’re a fraud, and that they are going to be found out.

          This happens especially when we step out of our comfort zone and change things. If you are living your best life, your inner critic likes to jeopardize that.

          The next time it appears, acknowledge what’s happening and call it out. Whatever it is telling you, list all the reasons it’s wrong.

          10. Be Prepared to Change the Plan

          You may have set intentions to live your best life. However, life is not linear, nor does it work in lists. You must expect to be flexible and change the plan as life throws things at you.

          The end game remains the same: to live your best life. It’s just the route to get there that will inevitably change.

          Conclusion

          Live each day like it counts, and remember, it’s your choice. Your best life is unique to you. Don’t compare yourself to others – focus on living your best life, and enjoy the learning, exploration, and experiences along the way.

          More Tips on How You Can Live Your Best Life

          Featured photo credit: Juliana Malta via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] Kon Mari: Tidy your space, transform your life
          [2] Harvard Health Publishing: In Praise of Gratitude
          [3] University of Rochester Medical Center: Journaling for Mental Health
          [4] Daniel H. Pink: Dan Pink on Motivation
          [5] Sleep Foundation: Healthy Sleep Tips

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