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Last Updated on April 22, 2020

How to Stay Focused and Not Get Distracted

How to Stay Focused and Not Get Distracted

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.

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 March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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