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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

You sit at your desk, ready to finally get some work done. “Okay, lets do this,” you think to yourself. You scroll over to Word (or Excel, or Office, etc.) and open up a fresh document. You have some idea of what needs to be done, but what happens next?

You write a few words down but just can’t stay focused. Then you say “Maybe I should wake myself up with something fun.” You go to Facebook, 20 minutes gone. Then comes Youtube, 60 minutes gone. Before you know it, lunchtime has come and half the day is gone.

Does this seem familiar? Do you ever find yourself wasting your day?

Well it doesn’t have to be this way, all you need to do is focus on finishing this article to find out how to not get distracted easily.

But before we move on to the tips, here’re some important notes you need to know:

  • Avoiding distraction is tough. You’re not alone when it comes to distractions. It’s not easy staying on task when you need to work for hours at a time, but some people are able to do it. The question is: why them and not you?
  • You were never taught how to focus. It’s funny how all throughout our school days we were never taught HOW to learn and be focused, even though that’s all we did. It was just assumed, and ultimately it was hit or miss on whether or not you ended up knowing how to do those things at all.
  • The tools to help master your ability to focus. Since everyone’s left to their own devices, it’s up to you to find ways to master your focus ability. That’s what these tips are for, so you can finally stay focused and on track with what we want to accomplish for ourselves.

So without further ado, let’s get started. 

1. Keep Your Vision and Goals in Mind

First things first, why do you even need to focus? Do you want to become a skilled guitar player? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to start working from home?

Think about it.

Knowing why we need to stay focused can help us push through the tough and tedious parts of accomplishing our goals. That’s when our ability to focus is really tested and when it’s most needed.

2. Reduce the Chaos of Your Day by Focusing on 2 to 3 Important Tasks

If you have 20 tasks you need done everyday how effective do you think your focus ability will be? Terrible, right?

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You can’t expect to do those things with sophistication if you’re too scatterbrained to focus. You need to break it down to the essentials.

Focus on only doing 2-3 important tasks a day (even one is okay), but no more than that. It’s all you need to take steps towards accomplishing your goals. Slower is much better than giving up early because you took on too much, too early.

3. Do Those Tasks as Soon as Possible

In order to make sure you get those 2 to 3 tasks done, you need to do them early. This means as soon as you wake up, you’re already plotting how to do them.

So get up, use the bathroom, eat breakfast, and do it (Yes, BEFORE work is the best time to do it).

It’s tough, but waiting to do them only invites distraction to take over. Those distractions WILL come, and they will drain your willpower. This makes working on your goals harder to do, so don’t wait do work on your goals, do them as early as possible.

4. Focus on Only the Smallest Part of Your Work at a Time

An easy way to kill your focus is to see a goal for the big giant accomplishment that it is. Most goals will at least take a few weeks to months to accomplish, and knowing that can make it feel like it’ll take FOREVER to do.

This will cause you to do one of two things:

  • You become discouraged because the goal is too big; or
  • You fantasize about what it’ll feel like to achieve the goal

Either way is terrible for your focus and always a potential problem when focusing on the big picture or using visualization.

So what should you do? Focus on doing a very small, minimum amount of work instead.

For example, which seems easier:

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Writing 200 words per day or writing a minimum of 2 sentences per day?

20 pushups per day or a minimum of 1 pushup per day?

The key here is to use minimums. Chances are you’ll push past them.

Eventually your minimum will increase, and you’ll slowly improve your ability to stay focused on the bigger tasks.

5. Visualize Yourself Working

I briefly mentioned in tip #4 that visualization techniques can hurt you more than help you sometimes. But there is a proper way of using visualization, and it’s by visualizing yourself actually WORKING (not as if you’ve succeeded already).

Champion runners use this technique to great effect, usually by working backwards. They imagine themselves winning at first, then they act out the whole process in reverse, feeling and visualizing each step all the way to the beginning.

A quicker and more relevant way to apply this would be to imagine yourself doing a small part of the task at hand.

For instance, if you need to practice your guitar but it’s all the way across the room (let’s assume maximum laziness for the sake of this example), what should you do?

First, imagine standing up (really, think of the sensation of getting up and then do it). If you really imagined it, visualized and felt the act of standing up, then acting on that feeling will be easy.

Then repeat the visualization process with each step till you have that guitar in hand and you’re playing it. The process of focusing so intently on each step distracts you from how much you don’t want to do something, and the visualizations “ready your body” for each step you need done.

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All you need to do is apply this process to whatever it is you need to focus on, just start with the smallest motion you need to do.

6. Control Your Internal Distractions

Internal distractions are one of those problems you can’t really run away from. You need to find ways to prepare your mind for work, and find simple ways to keep it from straying to non-essential thoughts as well.

A good way to prime your mind for work is to have a dedicated work station. If you always work in a specific area, then your mind will associate that area with work related thoughts.

Simple enough, right? When you take breaks make sure to leave your work station, that way you’ll know when you’re “allowed” to let your thoughts roam free as well.

Deadlines are useful here also (use Pomodoro method for example, see tip #9). This method helps keep your mind from wandering around since you’ve got that looming deadline coming along.

Ultimately though, silencing those unwanted thoughts is all about getting some traction going. So instead of focusing on what’s happening internally, focus getting something done (anything!). Once you do that, you’ll see that all your thoughts will be about finishing your task.

7. Remove External Distractions

This tip is straightforward, just get away from things that distract you.

Is the television a distraction? Work in another room. Are the kids distracting you? Get up earlier and work before they wake up. Is the Internet distracting? Turn off the modem.

It’s usually obvious what you should do, but you still shouldn’t overlook this piece of advice.

8. Skip What You Don’t Know

This is a tip I don’t see often enough, if you hit a snag in your work then come back to it later. Focus your attention on what you CAN do, keep working “mindlessly” at all costs. All this means is that you should focus on the easy parts first.

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Eventually you can come back to the more difficult parts, and hopefully by then it’ll have come to you or you’ll have built up enough momentum that it won’t break your focus if you work on it.

9. Improve Your Discipline With Focus Practice

There’s a few focus exercises you can do to improve your overall discipline.

The first one is meditation, which is basically the definition of focus in practice. Think about it, you’re literally just sitting there doing nothing. It’s a great method for building focus ability, de-stressing, and giving you greater control over your emotions. You should definitely give meditation a shot.

The second exercise is the Pomodoro method. These are basically “focus sprints,” and each one is followed by a solid break. Like real sprints, you’ll get better and better at doing them over time. Each interval improves your ability to stay focused when it matters, so it’s more than worth your time to try this out.

10. Manage Your Momentum

Momentum is like a discipline lubricant‒it helps ease the process of sticking with goals. That’s why I think it’s important that we never take true breaks from our goals; we end up losing momentum and relying on discipline to get back on track (not an easy thing to do).

This means each and everyday we need to do something significant to further our goals (yes, even weekends and holidays). And when I say “significant,” I don’t necessarily mean a big task‒but rather, any task that brings us closer to our goals.

For instance, if your goal is to be a freelance writer, then write one single pitch on a weekend. If your goal is get healthy, then go for a short 5 minute walk even on Christmas day.

Nothing big, nothing crazy, only stuff that is significant enough to contribute to the success of your overall goal.

More Tips on Staying Focused

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Ericson Ay Mires

The productivity expert that treads the "dangerous" path of motivation.

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Last Updated on January 19, 2021

How to Eliminate Distractions for Achieving Your Goals

How to Eliminate Distractions for Achieving Your Goals

We all have our own set of goals we want to achieve. Goals we have been working on for months, years and maybe even more. Goals that we keep chipping away at but are not able to make the necessary dent in, to make an impact and complete them.

Despite all our late nights, early mornings and weekends of working in the perfect place, the precious timebox or updating our checklists – we simply cannot achieve the goals in front of us.

Are we not good enough?
Is our goal completely unrealistic?
Are we not sure what it is we are actually trying to do?

Perhaps. Maybe, it’s a combination of all of these put together and everything around us that keeps distracting us from our purpose, reducing our focus to the point where we can’t generate the internal focus and drive to accomplish what we want.

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All those Notifications

If you want to hit the low hanging fruit – start here. We are bombarded, BOMBARDED, with notifications 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Years ago, when my computer prompted me for updates, I would get notified of them and later walk away – letting it update in peace and quiet. Now, I get them weekly to my phone, update this OS, download this app – constantly staring me in the face asking me to click update, constantly reminding me. Add to that mix all the emails and social media notifications and the buzzing gets even louder. Sure “some” of it is is important but when you are trying to focus on the task at hand, you don’t need that email from work or friend request coming in. You need to eliminate that distraction to the point where it cannot be easily overridden.

When I’m working on one of my important goals, I turn off my phone and throw it across the room. The throwing (perhaps, gentle placement is more realistic) is an important act. The goal is for it not to be in arms reach and if I feel the urge to check, I find myself feeling that pang of guilt of actually, consciously, making the decision to walk across the room to pick up my phone.

On the web, I’ve played with a few applications and have found Strict Workflow to be the best tool to help here. Strict Workflow is a Chrome extension that blocks your access through your Chrome browser based on a timer. When the timer is active you can’t access those sites, when you are on break you can. The only way to override the change once it is active is to uninstall the extension.

Uninstalling the extension is akin to walking across the room to pick up my phone. If I were to uninstall the program while it was active I would feel that pang of guilt again asking me, questioning me whether going onto Facebook was worth not achieving my goal. And the internal follow-up question to that?  Do you really not have 30 minutes to spend on this goal?

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And I would figuratively hang my head in shame and mumble to myself – yes I do – and get back to it.

Guilt isn’t the greatest emotion in the world, but when it is used to get you back to what you need to be doing, it can be quite effective.

You are doing too much

Even after you’ve taken away all those distractions, you might start to find something still holding you back. It might be a subtle hold, perhaps more akin to a tug at your heart, it will come and go but will always be there… nagging you… pulling you down… holding you back… distracting you from your real purpose.

What is it?  One of your goals, maybe all of them?  Perhaps you have too much on the go?

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This is the hard choice that many people struggle with, as we want to accomplish so much in our lives.  But we need to make hard choices to move forward in life and this sometimes involves dropping the goals that are holding us back. These are the secondary goals on our plate that we simply aren’t going to achieve.  I recently had to make this decision. I had a couple of technical blogs that were languishing. I had not been writing in one of them for a year. Every few weeks I would remind myself of this fact to the point where it would become this 30 – 45 min conversation about how I could do it, what would I write about, where would I find the time, etc, etc, but then never do anything.

So I removed the distractions.

I deleted both blogs about 3 weeks ago. I could have kept them up and running for the next 6 months, but I chose to take them down immediately. Out of mind, out of sight. At first, I was sad, feeling as though I had failed. But a week later, those distractions were no longer consuming me, I didn’t think about them anymore and my time, energy, and focus were directed towards where it needed to be – on the goals I really wanted to focus on.

The Duality of Opportunities

Isn’t it a great feeling when someone you don’t know has seen your work and says – “Hey, saw your work, can we have lunch or would you be able to help on this project or can you do this presentation with us, etc, etc” – so many great feelings start to churn through you at that point in time. I love that feeling, it’s a feeling of validation and acceptance in all that you are doing and gives you such an incredible push. But like any sword, opportunities also have a double-edge to them. Sure it’s great to be acknowledged, but if that project is too big, not in line with where you want to be focusing your time or simply too big of an undertaking – walk away.

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Taking control of your distractions involves making tough decisions. You can’t do it all, no matter how hard you try, you can’t. So sometimes we have to be picky with what we choose to do and the opportunities we take. You don’t have to be rude about it, but you do have, to be honest with yourself about it.

Pick the opportunities which are most aligned to your goals, toss the rest.

There are some uncomfortable feelings here – frustration, guilt, forced loss – that you need to deal with when taking control of your distractions. The answers are not always easy and can involve some deep soul-searching on what you truly want to accomplish.

Deleting all the games and unnecessary apps from your phone, that’s easy, but turning down opportunities or generating that feeling of guilt when start to waiver are feelings we don’t generally lean towards. If you are serious about achieving your goals – not only achieving but surpassing them – then you need to take control of what is holding you back.

Because if you don’t, if you let them run rampant when you do realize it’ll be too late and you’ll know, in a heartbeat, that the feelings you have at that point in time (of not having met your goals) are infinitely worse than what you would have felt if had taken control of them from the beginning.

Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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