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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

3 Simple Strategies for Dealing With External Distractions

3 Simple Strategies for Dealing With External Distractions
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There are different types of distractions, but one of the most common types that derails our work ethic day after day are external distractions. Between email, news feeds, Facebook, notification beeps, the sound of the newspaper hitting the front door, the neighbor’s child who runs past your office window screaming and swinging from your clothesline, and all manner of aggravating background noise, paying attention to what’s in front of you can feel impossible.

Much of the time, we succumb to these distractions because we’re looking for one, such as when we check email or feeds when we should be working on something with substance. Other times, those distractions happen to us and can shake our concentration, and we need to get that concentration back immediately before we allow busywork to consume our minds.

Prevention is better than a cure, so it’s important to find ways to keep external distractions to a minimum so that you can make the best use of any given amount of time. However, it’s also important that we have strategies in place to deal with them when our attempts to prevent fail.

1. Firewall Your Attention

Attention firewalling is a popular concept in productivity circles, made popular in recent years by people like Tim Ferriss, Gina Trapani, and Merlin Mann. It’s just a geeky term for preventing distractions from reaching you in the first place.

Ultimately, you should be able to prevent most external distractions from disturbing you with a bit of thought. You need to identify what your distractions are and how you get from productive work to those distractions and blow up the bridge, so to speak. For instance, if a certain website is wasting too much of my time, I can block my access to it using software.

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If I find myself bypassing the software, I can go block it with my router that is a bit harder to bypass, specifically because it needs to be reset to save the change. During that time, I won’t have the distractions of the Internet, and I have a good chance of realizing what I’m doing and getting back on track.

Email is another major external distraction; check it only at certain pre-set times of the day and uninstall notifications. Tell your iPhone not to make sounds when you receive messages. Some people even set up autoresponders to try and “educate” those emailing them about their email habits, hoping that it’ll reduce the incoming flow in the future.

If I’m easily distracted by the sound of my son playing since I work from home, I can put some (non-distracting) music on, preferably with headphones, to block that sound out when I need to focus.

2. Make It Easy to Regain Focus

I’ve decided to visit Reddit, which I’ve found so distracting I’ve blocked it using my router. I make up an excuse as to why I should read the site and unblock it, but as I mentioned earlier, I have to wait for my router to restart.

How can I make it easier to get back on task during that waiting time? What about keeping my focus clear as I’m working so I’m less likely to fall into the external distraction trap?

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Start by keeping a to-do list nearby. It needs to be readily visible and readable from your most common working position, such as right next to your monitor. It also means you shouldn’t be writing in tiny print with 100 items on a page. Be reductive, and keep to-do lists short.

Keeping to-do lists short seems like something that might cause you to miss or forget some important, like low-priority tasks, but it all depends on your system. I use special software to capture and organize everything I need to do, and then paper to create day-to-day to-do lists, and this system works great for me.

It can also be handy to add a little reminder, such as “Are you on task?” if you find yourself constantly wandering. The key here is to keep your biggest priorities in plain view at all times, and be mindful of the list and your progress in tackling it.

3. Be Your Own Psychologist

Much of dealing with external distractions and procrastination is about becoming your own psychologist. Sometimes simple reminders are effective, and they can be short and ubiquitous if you so desire. That’s why “Are you on task?” at the top of your to-do list, right next to your monitor, works if you train yourself to be mindful of the list.

Motivation—that is, a compelling reason to complete work—is important to staying on task[1].

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I think it’s best to start with the carrot and introduce the stick only when that doesn’t work; no need to introduce more frustration and guilt into the work environment.

Start by reminding yourself of the long-term benefits of completing your work. You’ll get a big project, such as a new site, online and completed at last, or you’ll have a work-free weekend if you can complete all your tasks for the week.

Reminding yourself of short-term motivators is the second stop when you encounter external distractions. If you get x amount of work done by the end of the day, you won’t have to work late and can go out with your friends.

Immediate rewards are the last resort. Tell yourself that if you complete 600 more words of your article within twenty minutes, you can have a five minute break playing with your kids or doing something entertaining. Set a timer, especially if it’s something potentially derailing like feed reading or email checking.

Try to avoid using your five minutes for that sort of thing. Get out of the home office, or if you work in a corporate facility, at least away from your desk if you can do so without getting “managed” by one of those unbearable superiors.

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I call it the last resort because the best work often isn’t done in twenty minute increments, but if you’re not doing anything to start with because you’re too distracted, it’s a good start.

If you’re not sure how best to motivate yourself, you can take this free assessment to discover your style of motivation: What’s Your Motivation Style?

The Bottom Line

Internal and external distractions are inevitable in today’s world. In the end, it’s all about how you prepare to confront them when they appear and how you get back on track when your attention is pulled away. This takes practice, but with dedication, you can overcome the things that are trying to keep you from doing the important tasks in your life.

More on Overcoming External Distractions

Featured photo credit: Jakayla Toney via unsplash.com

Reference

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Joel Falconer

Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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Last Updated on July 27, 2021

Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better

Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better
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What comes to mind when you think of learning how to focus better? Do you think of the attention or concentration it takes to complete a task? Do you consider the amount of willpower needed to finish writing a report without touching your phone? Do you think it requires sitting in complete silence and away from distractions so that you can study for an important exam or prepare for an interview?

I’m sure many of you can relate to the above statements and agree that the ability to focus is about staying on task for a given period of time. Breaking that concentration would mean that you’ve lost your focus, and you’re either doing something else or trying to gain back that focus to finish up the intended task.

With an ever-increasing amount of information—that is easily accessible online and offline—we’re faced with a lot more opportunities and avenues to create possibilities to experience things on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, that can make it a lot harder for us to make progress or get things done because we’re either easily distracted or overwhelmed by the constant influx of information.

That’s why many of us end up having problems concentrating or focusing in life—whether it be on a smaller scale like completing a task on time, or something much bigger like staying on track in your career and climbing the ladder of success. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we blame our failures due to a lack of focus.

Learning how to focus better doesn’t have to be too complex. Here is some information to help you get started.

Focus Is Not About Paying Attention

What if I tell you that you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time?

Focus isn’t just the attention span of giving 20 minutes to a task. It actually goes far beyond that.

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The real reason why we focus is because we need to do something that exceeds our existing capability. We need to devote large amounts of time and energy to move the needle in life, to make that progress and positive change.

And why do we want to do that? Because we want to spend time becoming a better version of ourselves!

At the end of the day, the reason why we stay focused on any task, project, or goal is because we want to succeed. With that success comes progress in our lives, which means we eventually become better than what we were a month ago, or even a year ago.

Let me give you an example:

Say you’ve been tasked to manage a project by your boss. You have targets to meet and favorable outcomes to achieve. Your focus and attention has to be on this project.

Once the project has been completed, your boss is happy with the results and your hard work. She rewards you with praise, a promotion, or maybe even a year-end bonus.

That’s your success right there, and you feel good about your achievements. Looking back at who you were before and after the completion of this project, wouldn’t you say you’ve become a better version of your previous self?

Focus Is a Flow

This is what focus is and how where learning how to focus better starts. It’s not a one-off, task-by-task mode that you jump into whenever needed. Rather, focus is a flow[1].

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Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. Because focus takes energy, time, and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you, something that’s worth shutting down phone calls, text messages, and social media for.

So, why is it that we sometimes find it so hard to focus?

Usually, it’s because we’re missing two major elements. Either we don’t know where we want to go—in that we don’t have a clear goal—or we do have a goal, but we don’t have a clear roadmap.

Trying to improve your focus without these two things is like driving to get somewhere in a foreign country with no road map. You end up using a lot of gas and driving for hours without knowing if you’re getting anywhere.

Let’s go back to the example of your boss assigning you a project to manage. The company is opening a new office, and your boss wants you to oversee the renovations and moving-in process of this new location.

Now, if you didn’t have a clear goal or end result of how the new office should look, you could be busy arranging for contractors, interior designers, or movers to come, but have no clue what to assign or brief them on.

The second scenario is that you know exactly how the new office should look and when it should be up and running. However, because you don’t have a clear roadmap to get to that end result, you end up working all over the place; one moment you’re arranging for the contractors to start renovations, the next moment you’ve got furniture coming in when the space isn’t ready. What do you focus on first?

The Focus Flow

Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with many wrong turns. You also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow when learning how to focus better can help.

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Let me show you how theFocus Flow works.

  1. It starts from a clear objective.
  2. This becomes a clear roadmap.
  3. Then it manifests into a state oftargeted attentionand effort.
  4. This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.

Setting a Clear Objective

To start off, you need to set a clear focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on which things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.

Like driving a car, you need a destination.

In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.

A good focus objective, therefore, needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize, such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.

Drawing a Focus Roadmap

The second step is to lay out a practical focus roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.

There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal, but what comes first? What’s more valuable, and how long will it take?

That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to have at least a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.

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Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.

To create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your roadmap should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve as you learn how to focus better.

Need a little help in drawing this Focus Roadmap? The Full Life Planner can help you. It’s a practical planner to help you stay focused and on track with your most important goals and tasks in an organized way. Get yours today!

Power Up Your Productivity

I hope you now have a better understanding of how focus truly works. By harnessing your focus using the Focus Flow, you’ll be able to work on a task more productively, not because you’re able to concentrate, but rather because you know exactly what your end goal is, and you have a game plan in place to make that happen.

Once there is clarity, I can assure you that you’ll be less likely to get distracted or lose focus on your tasks at hand.

You may think it’s going to take you extra time writing out an objective and setting out a roadmap. You may believe that you are better off getting right down to the actual work.

However, as I’ve mentioned, there’s no point in rushing your efforts that lead you to nowhere or cause you additional detours. You’ll end up expending more mental energy and time than needed.

Once you’ve made your roadmap and found your focus, follow it up with unbreakable determination with Lifehack’s Actionable Motivation On Demand Handbook.

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Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Very Well Mind: The Psychology of Flow

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