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How to Maintain Focus Even With Distractions

How to Maintain Focus Even With Distractions
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I work from home and I can’t think of a place with more distractions than my messy, laundry-piled, pet-filled, toddler tornado of a home. There is always something else I could be doing, and there is often a chore I’m in the middle of, but somehow I’ve come up with a system that allows me to maintain focus at “work” even though there’s chaos right outside my office door. Here’s how I’ve done it:

Sometimes you have to get rid of all the bullshit in your life, and just focus on the things that make you a better person.

    1)   Set up your work-space—I can’t overestimate the importance of setting up your workspace. If your office is cluttered and disorganized, you’ll spend lots of extra mental energy just attempting to focus on the task at hand while psychologically, all you really want to do is clean, sort, and organize the huge pile in the corner. Our psyches crave order, so when your office is orderly, you know where to find what you need, and it’s clear to you what to put your attention on next (your inbox or your high priority activities list), you’re much more likely to be able to focus on the task at hand.

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    If organizing your office sounds overwhelming, I recommend asking for help from a co-worker, friend, or family member, and if that doesn’t work, then hire someone to help you get organized. If you need a book for motivation, I love “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

    2)   Protect your space from intrusions and common distractions—When I first started working from home my husband would unexpectedly walk into my office and start asking me questions about household stuff. At first I just thought it was annoying, but later I realized that these interruptions greatly reduce my productivity. So I had a little talk with my hubby and I established a “my workspace is sacred” rule. When I’m in my office with the door shut, the only interruptions should be for emergencies or very urgently needed information. Even my 2 ½ year old daughter respects my office space and knows that when I’m working, she’s not to disturb me.

    This kind of boundary setting shouldn’t stop at physical interruptions though. You also need to turn off your personal phone, put the answering machine on your office phone (check messages and return calls no more than twice a day), and definitely turn off the “new mail” indicator on your computer. Checking your email every time there’s a new message is a huge waste of time and completely derails your focus.

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    3)   Set the expectations of the people you work with—If you work in an office setting, you might experience intrusions and interruptions from co-workers or your boss. Let the people in your office know that interruptions reduce your productivity and you’d like to minimize them. Set up systems that will work for you and your co-workers.

    For instance, you might tell everyone that you’ll check your email and respond to emails at 11am and 3pm every day, rather than responding to each message individually throughout the day. You may even implement a coding system by which people can indicate high importance and time sensitive emails vs. low importance get to it whenever you can emails.

    4)   Strategize redirection ahead of time—If there’s an interruption you can anticipate, figure out a way to redirect ahead of time. Send a co-worker to someone else who’s working on the project, ask them for a more detailed analysis, or schedule another time to talk. Sometimes even delegating more responsibility to the concerned party can allay their fears and lighten your load.

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    Reminding people that they too have power and that you can’t attend to every detail boosts their responsibility and trains them not to rely so heavily on you.

    5)   Take a moment to address the distraction—There are times when my daughter is home and she’s in distress and needs me right away. I understand that, and by taking a moment to connect with her, I’m actually teaching her that I’m available when she really needs me, which ultimately reduces the number of interruptions.

    “Oh, you hurt yourself! Do you need a hug? I love you so much. I’m sorry you hurt yourself. Are you having fun playing with Grammy? I’m working right now, so I can’t play with you, but I bet Grammy will read you a story or do a puzzle with you!” Off she toddles happily.

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    Responding to your co-worker might sounds slightly different, “I know you’re concerned about the report, but I’m working on something else right now, can we schedule a time to talk about this later this afternoon? How about 4:00?” Jot it in your calendar, and get right back to your previous work.

    6)   Establish a regular reminder for your high priority activities—Working for myself means that I have to prioritize everything for myself, which I find quite challenging. So, in my moments of clarity, when I know what’s most important to my business, I create to do lists and mark the high priority items as such. Then, every time I find myself with unscheduled time, I revisit my “high priority” items and work through them one by one.

    I find it easy enough to check my list when I have time, but if you just never seem to get around to it, set a particular time of day or an alarm or send yourself an email reminder to check on those items that make the difference for you between success and failure.

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    I hope these strategies are helpful for you and I would love to know what you think of them! Please leave me a comment below and have a great and productive day.

    Warmly, Shelly

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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