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How to Stay Focused and Not Get Distracted

How to Stay Focused and Not Get Distracted
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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,[1] designating an area for working or studying can immensely help you get the job done. Here’s why:

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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.

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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.[2] 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.”[3] 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!

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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?

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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.[4]

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.

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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

Featured photo credit: Stefan Vladimirov via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Nick Hargreaves

Nick is a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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