Whatever work you do and wherever your work environment is, there’s a big chance that you have met distractions and struggled to stay focused at one point.
Distractions are everywhere: they could be external or internal distractions, and they could also be distractions that we can and cannot control.
Distractions are part of life. And this may sound contradictory, but I believe they can be a good thing in small doses. A little diversion during the day can help refresh your mind and prevent stress and burnout.
However, distractions become unhealthy when it’s starting to sabotage your productivity—when you start to take too much time dealing with less critical or even totally irrelevant activities.
Throughout a distraction-prone day, your focus is a crucial element that significantly impacts your performance and productivity. Your ability to focus can dictate whether or not you will succeed or fail in your chosen endeavor.
To help you improve your concentration and eliminate opportunities for procrastination, here are 7 smart tips to stay focused and manage distractions.
1. Dedicate a Space for Working
As I have previously written in a LinkedIn article, designating an area for working or studying can immensely help you get the job done. Here’s why:
When you pick one area as your workspace, you are training your mind to associate that place to work. As soon as you walk into that space, you’ll find it easier to get into “work mode” and stay focused on the task at hand.
While you’re at it, have fun with your workspace. Add designs that motivate you and make you feel good—perhaps pictures or motivational quotes, plants, and even natural light. However, be careful not to overdo the decorations, or you might be putting in more distractions.
Remember: Keep your workspace tidy and organized. A clean workspace helps reduce anxiety, minimize opportunities for procrastination, and boost your motivation.
2. Schedule Your Work Time
Planning your day and sticking to that schedule will help you avoid distractions.
Work in blocks. One smart way to plan your day is to work in 60 to 90-minute blocks. Give yourself a fixed amount of time to work, say, 70 minutes, and focus solely on that task until that time is over. Reward yourself with breaks in between; when you do, make sure that that time is spent solely for breaks!
Set deadlines. When talking about productivity, Parkinson’s Law is a famous concept that says, “Work expands to fill the time given to complete it.” To explain it in simpler words:
When you allow yourself four days to accomplish Task A, which could be done in one day, you tend to fill the remaining time with diversions. Instead of finishing Task A in one day, you might allow deviations in between: watching a YouTube video, mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, or even cleaning your desk impulsively.
On the other hand, when you’re up against a tight deadline, you tend to develop a laser-like focus to finish on time. You will find yourself concentrated on the task until it is done—because you have no time to laze around!
3. Let People Know You’re Working
After you have planned your work schedule, let your coworkers or the people around you know when you need to focus:
- Put up a sign on your door or around your workspace.
- Set your status to ‘Busy’ on your team’s messaging apps to turn off audible notifications and let people know that you don’t want to be disturbed at the moment.
- If you’re working in a noisy and open environment, it may help to wear headphones. One, you will be able to tune out the distracting noises (like loud conversations), and, two, people will be less likely to interrupt you when they see that you’re focused.
Take note: When listening to music, studies suggest that listening to classical or instrumental music helps improve concentration. That said, feel free to explore other music choices and go with a genre that enables you to focus and work better.
4. Choose Your Friends Wisely
Let me share with you a concept I have recently learned: behavioral contagion.
According to IResearchNet, this is the “tendency for people to repeat behavior after others have performed it.” Occasionally, we intentionally choose to imitate others, but most of the time, we may not be aware that we are already copying others’ behavior.
If you want to stay focused, surround yourself with people who do the same. You may not notice it there and then, but who you welcome into your circle affects how you perform. Their influence is so strong that they can either push you towards your goals or pull you away from them.
Choose your friends wisely—choose those who stay focused and avoid distractions!
5. Turn off Your Notifications
Every time something rings or beeps, you get distracted and lose focus on what you’re doing one way or another. So if you want to sit down and zero in on your task, turn off all notifications on your devices when it’s time to work.
Turn off your notifications during your scheduled work blocks, and then set a time for when you can use your phone and catch up on these notifications.
If you’ve allowed yourself 30 minutes for mobile phone time, stick to that period. Afterwards, turn off the notifications again as you go back to work. Regaining your focus after getting distracted by several audible notifications throughout the day will consume A LOT of time. Save yourself the trouble and manage your time wisely.
6. Set up to Three Main Objectives
To-do lists generally help us remember all the things we have to do and accomplish them on time. However, a long to-do list may be doing you more harm than good; it can make you feel tired and overwhelmed even before you start.
Counter this by giving yourself THREE main tasks to accomplish every day. No more than that.
When you limit the things you have to finish in a day to a realistic and feasible amount, you’ll have a clear idea of the tasks you have to do, and you will consequently feel good about it as you are able to check off more things.
Every morning, ask yourself: What are the three most important things to accomplish today?
All other tasks that didn’t make it to that list should go on a separate list; your priority for the day is to finish the top three tasks you previously identified.
7. Take Care of Yourself
We are human beings. We need to sleep, eat, take breaks, and move.
We are not robots; no matter how focused and motivated we are right now, we can’t and won’t stay that way forever.
You are more likely to get your work done quickly (and with better quality) if you take breaks—even just short ones. Whether it’s taking a walk, stretching for a few minutes, or relaxing while drinking coffee, taking a break can help you focus better when you’re back to work.
Along with taking adequate breaks, take care of your health. Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables during the day, stay hydrated, and get into a regular exercise program. Most importantly, get enough sleep. Allow your body to recuperate from a day’s hard work, and to re-energize for the day to come.
Remember: If you’re tired and worn out, you’re more vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed and getting distracted. Moreover, studies confirm that sleep deprivation impairs our ‘selective attention’, or our ability to focus on specific information when other things are occurring at the same time.
If you genuinely want to stay focused on a task, know that you will have to make a deliberate and committed effort. In our increasingly connected world of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and high-speed internet, distractions are everywhere.
The Bottom Line
Rather than avoiding distractions, it’s a smarter practice to manage them. A little diversion now and then can help you recharge and freshen up, but you should learn how to control them and, ultimately, create work habits that work best for you.
More Tips on Staying Focused
- How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)
- Deep Work: 9 Grounding Rules to Stay Focused
- 7 Most Common Distractions at Work (And How to Tackle Them)
- How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus
Featured photo credit: Stefan Vladimirov via unsplash.com
|||^||Nick Hargreaves: Aiming for career growth? Embrace a lifestyle of learning.|
|||^||Toppr: Role of music in helping you focus|
|||^||IResearchNet: Behavioral Contagion|
|||^||Live Science: How a Sleepless Night Affects Your Ability to Focus|