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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 November 5, 2019

          7 Steps to Start Living Your Dream Life Right Now

          7 Steps to Start Living Your Dream Life Right Now

          Have you ever heard the question, “what would you do if money was not a factor?” It is one of those questions that people often brush aside, because quite frankly, money is a factor. The doubters will mock you as naive or foolish, but deep down you know it is possible to start living your dream life. You know there is more to life than working and paying bills.

          It seems as though most people are just trying to get by. They work because they need to make an income to support their life.

          People not only settle in the workplace, but also in their relationships with their friends and family. You may even know people who settle by compromising their integrity and core values.

          That is why it is not naive or foolish to start living your dream life, it is essential.

          Living your dream life is more than being rich, it is the belief that you are living a life aligned with your purpose. If you are ready to free yourself of the fears that cause you to live your life according to the expectations of others, then follow the below 7 steps found in the book – Champion of Change, the 7 Instrumental Laws of Change:

          1. Construct a Plan of Action

          The foundation for you to create your dream life is for you to take the time and visualize what that life will look like.

          This is more than the normal vision board you may have heard before. This form of visualization requires you to use all your senses. Olympians are well-known for their visualization practices as they prepare for competition. The reason they do this is because everyone is very talented by the mere accomplishment of qualifying for the Olympics.

          To gain an edge, Olympians will visualize themselves competing in their actual event. Emily Cook, of the United States free style ski team is quoted as saying she engaged all her senses in her visualization. She moves her body as if she is skiing down the slopes, she feels the air as it blows through her hair, and she hears the roar of the crowd as she crosses the finish line.[1]

          Olympians visualize in such detail because they understand they only have one opportunity every four years to compete. The best way they can be ready for the moment is by continually competing in their mind. Studies support this belief as they show you can literally gain muscle by visualizing yourself working out [2]

          2. Focus Your Attention

          If you want to start living your dream life right now, you are going to need to adjust the way you see the world. Your beliefs create your consciousness, and your consciousness creates your reality, and your reality is maintained by the way your mind filters information.

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          Everyday, you receive millions of sensory inputs and your mind filters out most of them to keep you from going crazy. The ones you receive are the ones that your mind believes matter to you based on past experiences.

          One of the most popular examples is when you purchase a new car. As soon as you purchase that car, suddenly you notice that car everywhere. Now you probably know that everyone did not purchase the car the same day as you, but what happened?

          Well, when you purchased your new car, you told your mind ,”this car matters to me”. As a result, your mind is now showing you the car that has always been there.

          Your mind blocks out most of the stuff that is going on while you are driving to help you stay sane. Imagine if you were consciously aware of every line, tree, car, deer, squirrel, reflector and sign while driving.

          The same way your mind can adjust your filters based on the action of purchasing a new car, you can take actions to create your dream life. As you take action, your mind will show you new opportunities that were always there (just outside of your previous filters).

            Learn more about how to focus here: How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain

            3. Put the Systems and Processes in Place

            Once you have the proper mindset to start living your dream life, you are ready to shift your focus to maintaining your early wins.

            The mistake most people make is they are excited in the early going, but they are working solely off discipline and willpower. Your willpower and discipline are exhaustible resources that will fade over time. That is why most people quit their New Year’s Resolution 30-days after starting. That is also why people who are on a diet will make nutritious decisions throughout the day, and fail miserably late at night.

            Each time you withstood the tempting call of sweets, the likelihood of you withstanding another call decreased.

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            This is why it is so important that you put systems and processes in place that limit the need for you to use discipline and willpower. In the case of our dieter, it would be better for them to trash all the candy they no longer want to eat.

            The reason is simple:

            Whatever food that is in your house, you are going to eat at some time or another. The only way to truly ensure you will not eat the candy is to throw it away.

            This is also true when it comes to you and your dream life. If you want to ensure that you follow through on your vision, you have to be willing to limit the ability for you to revert back to your previous life.

            If you want to stop relying on your willpower and start making things happen, these tips will help: How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop

            4. Accountability Is a Must

            When you are accountable to someone or a group, you will find yourself more motivated to continue. Deep down, we all want to be accepted by others. Even though this can work against you sometimes, this particular occasion is not one of them.

            When you proclaim your goal to other people, it improves the likelihood of you following through.

            You may be surprised to know, but you experience accountability on a regular basis.

            • If the CEO asks you to provide a report, you are going to make the best report of your life. You understand the opportunity and value of making a good impression with the CEO.
            • Now imagine if your coworker asked for the report. Will there be a difference in quality?
            • How about if you were going to a class reunion? Would that improve your commitment to get in shape?
            • Even when you know you are going to have company over at your house, you are going to clean better than if you knew no one was coming.

            Accountability works because you want to keep your word and make a good impression of yourself in front of others.

            5. Catalyst for Change

            There are things you can control and things that you cannot control in life. Do not allow the fear of failure or fear of uncertainty keep you from living your dream life. Everything is not going to go smoothly on your journey. You are going to face challenges and setbacks.

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            The good news is failure is a part of success. They are two halves of the same coin. What tends to happen is people spend so much time trying to avoid failure, that they never realize they are undermining their ability to find success.

            By understanding that failure is a part of success, you understand your goal is not to avoid failure, but to build on it: 10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

            Your dream life does not necessarily need a positive event to start. Oftentimes, it is the negative events (or perceived negative) and a sense of desperation that drives people to reach further than they ever have before.

            Your catalyst for change may be exactly what you wanted or it may be the worst thing that could have happened. Either way, your focus is on what to do next. You want to build on that event by stacking positive events on top of it.

            Positive events are anything that move you closer to your goal. In your case, anything that moves you closer to your dream life. Whether you quit your job or your boss fired you, it is all about what you are going to do next.

            Choose to respond to each situation by taking another step towards your dream life.

            6. Character Matters

            In a study between two schools on opposite ends of the economic spectrum, positive psychology experts created a list of character strengths they believed essential to success.

            Their list included grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

            Some of the character traits were common with how most people view success; such as grit, curiosity or self-control. However, gratitude, zest, optimism, and social intelligence (compassion) were on the list, but their relation to success is often overlooked.[3]

            It is important to remember that change comes from the inside-out. Your core values are the prism through which you accomplish your goals.

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            7. Muster up the Courage

            Once you have completed the first six steps, you have everything you need to start living your dream life.

            Do not allow yourself to procrastinate on your transformation. The fear of change may disguise itself as a thoughtful plan to wait for more information or better timing.

            Keep in mind that you are not looking for the perfect situation, you are only looking to start. One you get started, you are going to be better equipped to make any changes.

            I often compare starting your journey like walking through a fog. If you stand on the outside of the fog trying to see to the other side, you are going to find it very difficult. But if you are willing take the first few steps, you are going to realize that you can see a few more steps into the fog.

            If you are willing to continue walking, before you know it, you can see clearly because the fog is behind you.

            You have an idea of what your dream life looks like and you have an idea of the effort it is going to take to make it happen. However, you do not really know how realistic your expectations are until you experience it.

            Final Thoughts

            There is a lot of work that goes into living your dream life, but you will find it well worth your time.

            Most people regret the things they did not do more than anything they have ever done. Therefore, do not settle for a life that is less than your dream life. Pursue your dream life with effort and resolve.

            More About Living Your Dream Life

            Featured photo credit: Cristina Gottardi via unsplash.com

            Reference

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