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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 October 22, 2020

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
  • Say no to all else.
  • Say no again.
  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
  • Meditate.
  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

Final Thoughts

These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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