Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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.


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.


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.


    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.


          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


          More by this author

          Brian Lee

          Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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          Last Updated on January 6, 2021

          13 Things to Put on Your Daily Checklist for Boosted Productivity

          13 Things to Put on Your Daily Checklist for Boosted Productivity

          Did you know that many C-level executives play computer games at work to “feel more productive”? Today, people are using whatever they can to become (more) productive, and a daily checklist is just one of many great tools.

          Now, there is a good way and a bad way to create a daily checklist. One will super boost your productivity, and the other one will be a mind-numbing list of tasks you’ll give up on in two days.

          To avoid the latter, you should limit your checklist to the essentials in order to super boost your productivity, and it starts with your morning routine. When creating your checklist, you can use a bullet journal or a simple piece of paper with task lists for your work day.

          Starting in the morning and into the rest of your day, try including at least a few of these 13 elements on your daily checklist to move your day forward and stay productive.

          1. Sleep for 8 Hours

          You need to sleep for 8 hours[1]. There’s just no way around it. There is a plethora of research that says that you need 8 hours of sleep to be productive and cognitively optimal during the day.

          But what is even scarier is that there is a ton of research done on the effects lack of sleep brings to people, and the results are devastating.

          If you want to be productive, sleep should be the first thing on your daily checklist.

          2. Early Physical Activity

          This doesn’t have to be an hour-long session in the gym. You can do that if that’s your thing, but simple stretching, a 10-minute walk, or a short 5 to 7 minute exercise routine can be enough to get your body moving and ready for the day ahead.

          You just need something to wake up your body and get the blood flow going. One example would be Tony Robbins, who jumps into his pool and swims a couple of laps.


          3. Eat Some (Healthy) Food

          Food gets energy in your body early in the morning and wakes up your mind in a different way than exercise.

          You need food in the morning, and something healthy will offer the best benefits for your mind and body.

          Even if you work sitting down for most of the day, you should still plan on including a couple of healthy snacks on your daily checklist. Bring some nuts, a piece of fruit, or some granola to act as a pick-me-up when you’re feeling tired.

          4. Do Your Favorite Unproductive Activity

          You are a human being and we need fun, unproductive, and lazy time. If you spend 10 to 20 minutes in the morning doing your favorite unproductive activity, you will settle down “the instant gratification monkey” everyone has inside.[2]

          Once you’re done with it, you will clear it from your mind and carry on. Some people watch YouTube, some play Minesweeper or BubbleSpinner, but you can do whatever you like. That’s why it’s your favorite unproductive activity and why it should have a small place on your daily checklist.

          5. Personal Reflection Time

          Meditation is just one thing you can do for your personal reflection time. You can also spend a couple of minutes centering yourself for the upcoming day or writing a page in a journal.

          Some people focus on gratitude,[3] but anything you include in personal reflection time is time well spent.

          This time can take the form of a prayer, a minute of silence, sitting down in the car and doing nothing, etc.

          6. A 10-Second Plan

          You already know what the most important thing you have to do today is. If I gave you only 10 seconds right now to plan your day to be productive, that activity would be the only one you wrote down on your daily checklist in those 10 seconds.


          That is your plan for today. Do only that for today, and your day will be productive.

          7. Get Yourself Into a Working Mindset by Reading

          When they get to work, most people first sit down, open their browser, and randomly scroll the internet for half an hour.

          If you’re looking to be more productive, you should sit down and open up a book or an article that is related to your field of work. Once you read for a few minutes, your brain will focus on that information, and it will start producing creative ideas and solutions.

          Reading is also a great thing to have on your daily checklist for after work when you’re winding down.

          8. Remove Distractions

          Put your front page on your browser to something which won’t seduce you into procrastinating. Use headphones, even if you don’t listen to music, because your colleagues will know that you mean business when they are on.

          Close the door to avoid people walking in at inopportune times. Turn off Wi-Fi on your phone.

          Take a look at these tips on How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done and then add it to your daily checklist.

          9. When Tired, Rest

          Since I’m a writer, taking a nap in the middle of the day to rest is a possibility and almost a daily occurrence for me (sometimes I take a long walk instead).

          You will get tired during the day, and when that happens, don’t try to push through it. Simply stop working and go rest.


          The problem here is that nobody ever taught us how to rest, and Western culture looks at that as laziness. There is a major difference between the two, but the most important thing when resting is that you 100% rest. Stop working, and do your best to stop thinking of work.

          This may mean you listen to music or practice meditating for a few minutes. Do whatever works for you.

          Many people find it necessary to schedule downtime as part of their daily checklist. That way, you know when and for how long to rest to make the most of your day.

          10. Know When the Day Is Done

          Many people feel they lack productivity simply because there is always something more they could be doing. While that’s true, make sure you know what you want to achieve and allow yourself to feel accomplished once you’ve done that.

          As part of your daily checklist, add in a moment of recognition for what you’ve managed to achieve during the day.

          11. Track Your Day

          By tracking your day, you realize what you did and didn’t do for that day. After a couple of days of working on everything from your checklist, the goal becomes to not “break the chain.” This is something attributed to Jerry Seinfeld[4] who, when asked how he became a great comedian, responded:

          “I just wrote one joke a day and then tried not to break the chain on my calendar.”

          On your daily checklist, make it a point to mark off what you’ve completed.

          You may want to make use of these apps to keep track of your day: 24 Best Habit Tracking Apps


          12. Reward Yourself

          The best thing after a productive day is the reward you get by being productive.

          Don’t ignore this thing on your daily checklist. If you’ve done everything from the checklist, give yourself a proper reward. It will make your brain remember the activity as pleasurable, and it will become easier for you to do it.

          Learn to celebrate small wins so you’ll stay motivated and keep up the momentum.

          13. Change What Isn’t Working

          A daily checklist is a tool which you use, so understand that over time, your life, work, job, situation, and position will change. And alongside that, your daily checklist should change as well.

          Make it a point to reevaluate your daily checklist each day to make sure it’s serving you in the best way possible. You can also use a point on your daily checklist to reevaluate what isn’t working in certain areas of your life in general.

          The Bottom Line

          You now have 13 things for your daily checklist that will help you become more productive and spend time on things that matter. Put it somewhere visible where it can look at you every single morning and evening.

          If you commit to completing each item every day, eventually, it will bring you massive results. Every journey, no matter how long, always begins the same way—with a single step.

          More Productive Habits to Adopt

          Featured photo credit: Luisa Brimble via


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