Learning how to not get distracted is a tough goal to have. Most days, 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 Google Drive 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 an hour of mindlessly watching a handful of YouTube videos. Before you know it, lunchtime has come, and half the day is gone.
If this sounds familiar, know that 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.
But before we move on to the tips, it’s important to note that avoiding distraction is tough. 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?
Furthermore, you were probably never taught how to focus. In school, the teacher likely got upset when your mind wandered and you found yourself staring out the window, but this wasn’t remedied by teaching you how to focus; they simply expected it to come naturally. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic, especially in today’s distracting world.
In the end, since everyone is left to their own devices, it’s up to you to find ways to master your focus. That’s what these tips are for, so you can finally stay focused and on track with what you want to accomplish.
1. Keep Your Vision and Goals in Mind
It’s important to start with a good base for your focus as you learn how to avoid distraction. This means figuring out exactly why you need to focus in the first place. Do you have a big presentation at work next week that you need to prepare for? Do you have a dream of learning to play the guitar and need to focus for an hour each day while you practice?
Deciding what your ultimate goal is will help you dedicate yourself to learning how to focus. 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
If you have 20 tasks you need done every day, how effective do you think your focus ability will be?
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 if you want to learn how to not get distracted.
Focus on only doing 2-3 important tasks a day, 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 soon. Ultimately, this is better for your mental health as you’ll continuously see yourself moving forward without getting easily distracted.
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 in order to stay focused on the task without feeling overwhelmed. This means that as soon as you wake up, you’re already plotting how to do them.
It’s tough, but waiting to do them later only invites distraction to take over. Those distractions will inevitably come in the form of unexpected emails, social media, a child that needs your attention, or coworkers who need a helping hand on their projects. All of this can drain your willpower and make focusing on the task at hand much more difficult.
4. Focus on 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 too long to do.
This will cause you to do one of two things:
- You become discouraged because the goal is too big.
- You fantasize about what it’ll feel like to achieve the goal.
Either is terrible for your focus and always a potential problem when focusing on the big picture or using visualization.
Instead, focus on doing a very small, minimum amount of work.
For example, if you need to write an article, you know you’ll need about 1000 words. If that seems like a lot, plan to write 200 words each day for the next five days (or adjust this according to the given deadline). Breaking it down like this will help the task feel more manageable, helping you learn how to not get distracted along the way.
5. Visualize Yourself Working
I briefly mentioned in tip 4 that visualization techniques can hurt you more than help you sometimes. However, there is a proper way of using visualization, and it’s by visualizing yourself actually working.
Champion runners use this technique to great effect, usually by working backwards. They imagine themselves winning at first, and 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 the 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.
All you need to do is apply this process to whatever it is you need to focus on.
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 in order to learn how to not get distracted.
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.
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 also useful here. This method helps keep your mind from wandering since you’ve got that looming deadline coming along.
If you can build your focus muscle, you will be able to take control of your internal distractions all the time. You learn more about building that muscle in Lifehack’s Fast-Track Class: Focus Like a Top Achiever.
Ultimately though, silencing those unwanted thoughts is all about getting some traction going. Instead of focusing on what’s happening internally, focus getting something done. Once you do that, you’ll see that all your thoughts go toward finishing your task.
7. Remove External Distractions
This tip is a bit more straightforward as it requires you to simply distance yourself physically from things that are causing distractions.
If the television is disrupting, turn it off or work in another room. If your kids are playing and yelling, try getting up to work before they wake up. If you keep checking your phone, put your phone on silent while you’re working.
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 as you learn how to not get distracted. Focus your attention on what you can do to keep working “mindlessly” at all costs. All this means is that you should focus on the easy parts first.
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 are 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. It’s a great method for building focus ability, de-stressing, and giving you greater control over your emotions.
The second exercise is the Pomodoro method, which asks you to set a timer to track the time you spend on a task. 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, helping you learn how to not get distracted in the long term.
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 every day, 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 to get healthy, then go for a short, 5-minute walk, even on Christmas day.
The Bottom Line
Learning how to not get distracted is certainly easier said than done. Distractions exist in every corner of our lives these days, even if it’s in the form of a short beep generated from a notification. These kinds of distractions can seem minimal, but anything that pulls you away from your focus can get in the way of your productivity.
Don’t get distracted. Instead, use some of the tips above to win back your focus and overcome distractions. Your productivity will thank you.
More Tips on Staying Focused
- How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)
- 9 Ways To Focus and Be Super Productive At Work
- Productivity Music for Focus (Recommended Playlists)
Featured photo credit: Chase Clark via unsplash.com
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