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Last Updated on April 19, 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

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?

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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 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.

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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.[1]

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.

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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.

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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

Featured photo credit: Chase Clark via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The New York Times: Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training

More by this author

Ericson Ay Mires

The life coach that helps you create your perfect life with his "Ignite Your Instinct" program.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

“As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

What Is Block Scheduling?

Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

“Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

What is time blocking?

    1. Assess Your Calendar

    Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

    Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

    2. Look for Patterns

    After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

    • Administrative
    • Meetings
    • Creative work
    • Email
    • Personal time.

    You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

    3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

    Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

    • 8-9am: Respond to emails
    • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
    • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
    • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

    However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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    Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

    Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

    Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

    4. Create Day Themes

    If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

    If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

    Benefits of Block Scheduling

    Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

    Battle Procrastination

    If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

    For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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    Create Realistic Time Estimates

    Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

    Develop More Focus and Attention

    When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

    Final Thoughts

    Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

    In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

    If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

    Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

    More Tips on Time Management

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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