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Published on January 20, 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 the CEO of Cloud Employee and a serial entrepreneur.

How to Stay Focused and Not Get Distracted 8 Signs of a Micro Manager (And How Not to Become One)

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Published on February 17, 2020

What Is a Bullet Journal and What Are the Benefits?

What Is a Bullet Journal and What Are the Benefits?

You may have heard of a productivity method called Bullet Journaling. What is a bullet journal? It is a very personal approach to getting in control of your life and becoming more productive.

It does that by allowing you to build your journal, your system, and your method of journaling with very few limitations.

Traditional journaling, or productivity systems, usually give you a template: a set way to record your information and tasks. You input the information and the system then shows you the information in a predetermined way. Not so with a bullet journal.

What Is a Bullet Journal?

With a bullet journal, you start with a number of symbols and a blank notebook (or a digital equivalent). Your choice of notebook, the pen you use, the ink color, and how you use the symbols is entirely up to you. You have complete freedom.

In a sense, with a bullet journal, instead of having a “system,” you have some best practices that guide you.

Is a Bullet Journal Right for You?

So, with that in mind, would a bullet journal work for you? That depends. A bullet journal is ideal for those who have a strong creative side: a person who does not want to be bound by constraints and limits. Bullet journals give you complete creative freedom, and for many people, that is the attraction.

However, if you are easily distracted and are a bit of a perfectionist, this lack of constraints can be a rabbit hole of lost focus and frustration. There is also the issue of the amount of time it takes to maintain a bullet journal. Depending on how you want your journal to look, these journals can take up a lot of time just to maintain. That is not for everybody.

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How a Bullet Journal Works: An Overview

A bullet journal works by giving you a blank page for each day. You have an appointments section and a to-do section, and after that, you can add anything you want.

In your to-do section, there are a few symbols you will use to indicate what has happened to a to-do:

  • A bullet – a task
  • A bullet with a cross – task complete
  • A dash – indicates a note
  • Forward arrow – task moved to another day
  • A circle – an event

That said, you can of course modify these symbols to suit your tastes.

On top of your daily pages, you will have an index page and a calendar page. How you create these is up to you..

Benefits of a Bullet Journal

1. Improves Your Mental Health

We know journaling has incredible mental health benefits. The act of journaling gives you time for reflection, time to get your thoughts out of your head, and time to review and plan.[1]  It’s a tremendous way to add some much needed perspective in your life.

When you give yourself that valuable time to yourself, you have the opportunity to slow down and contemplate, and that allows your mind to settle, calm down, and reset. In a world that is relentlessly distracting, noisy and frenetic, those quiet moments with your journal can help sooth you.

Learn more about improving your mental health: 8 Simple Ways to Be Mentally Healthy

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2. Helps You Stay on Top of Your Goals

Bullet journaling helps you stay on top of your projects and goals. Your to-do list guides you towards getting important things done each day and gives you a space to collect new tasks, opportunities and events.

Without having a place to store your ideas, tasks and events, it is very easy for these things to slip your mind. When you have a journal with you everywhere you go, it’s very difficult to miss these things because you have them written down.

Being able to see what you have planned, what you would like to achieve, and how you are progressing is a great way to keep you motivated to keep going, even when things get tough.

Read more about how to reach your goals: 6 Golden Rules to Make Progress Towards Achieving Your Goals.

3. Develops Creativity

Bullet journaling can help develop your creativity. Having a blank page every day on which to create your vision for that day engages your creative side, and the more you use your creativity, the more creative you become.

The freedom a bullet journal gives you to write, draw, color in, and develop gets your creative juices flowing. And if you need inspiration, you only need search “bullet journals” and you will be inundated with ideas and examples.

4. Lets You Write Your Life’s Story

Every day you write a few more words of your life’s story. Over time, you build an incredibly unique story — the story of your life. That one reason alone should be enough for you to go out and buy yourself a beautiful notebook in which to start writing your story.

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Most people drift through life without documenting anything. Holidays with loved ones and friends go undocumented, becoming little more than a blur of memory and a long-lost batch of photos hidden among thousands of others stored on your phone.

With a bullet journal, you can write down how you felt and who you were with, and you can print out your favorite photos and stick them into your journal to help you remember. (Yes! You can do that!)

In ten or twenty years, when you look back through your journals, you will be able to re-live those special moments and experience the feelings you had at those times.

5. Helps You Achieve Your Goals Through Writing

The act of writing down your goals is one very powerful step to take towards achieving those goals. Studies have shown that when you write down your goals, you stand a much better chance of actually achieving them.

Having a place to evaluate and review your goals helps keep you on track and keeps those goals up front and center in your life. It is very easy to sit down in the excitement of a new year and tell your friends about all the things you plan to do, only to completely forget about those goals by the end of January.

When you write your goals down in your bullet journal (you can create a goals section), you have a place to remind you of what you want to achieve. This will keep you motivated and focused.

Need more tips for staying motivated? Check out 8 Steps to Continuous Self Motivation Even During the Difficult Times.

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The Bottom Line

There are multiple benefits to keeping a journal, and the beauty of a bullet journal is that you get to create your own way of doing things. There are many resources online to guide and inspire you.

The stories and memories you record in your bullet journal will give you joy and inspiration for years to come. So the next question is, when will you start to create your own.

I have written a step-by-step guide you can use to start building your bullet journal today. This gives you guidance and ideas for the kind of notebook and pen to use, what you can store in your journal, and how to set up the basic structure.

Good luck and happy journaling!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

Reference

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