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The 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distraction and Get Things Done

The 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distraction and Get Things Done

Do you ever have enough time to fit it all in? Are you time deficient and task overloaded? If you are, don’t worry—you are not alone, and there are ways to take control of your workload and get your work done.

Disturbed Focus

One of the reasons that many people are overloaded with work is not because they have too much to do, but because we live in a world of information overload and our focus is constantly being disturbed. Have you ever sat in a coffee shop or in an airport and gotten more work done in an hour than you do in a week? Sound familiar? That’s because sometimes when we are out of our own environment we are not being disturbed by a barrage of distractions. It’s crazy to think that when undisturbed, we can achieve so much in a short space of time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could imitate that everyday?

Well the good news is you can if you choose to. You first have to identify the things that distract you, and then set about eliminating or at least reducing them from your day.

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1. Clutter

On the outside, clutter appears to be an innocent by-product from our hectic lifestyles but in fact, clutter can be guilty of a lot more than an untidy environment. Clutter affects your state of being whether you are aware of it consciously or not, by disturbing your focus and confusing your mind. The first step to having fierce focus is de-cluttering your space and your mind. Make sure you have the right storage for your stuff; the main reason for clutter is that an object that gets left lying around doesn’t have a home. Correct storage solutions will avoid this, so invest in proper storage to avoid this from happening, but only after you have de-cluttered and removed unnecessary objects from your life.

2. Get Organized

After de-cluttering, you will need to organize what is left over; this will reduce the amount of time you spend looking for things and keep you feeling calmer and in control of your duties and responsibilities. If you work with paper you will need an effective filing system: consider a filing cabinet with hanging folders and labelled manila inserts for clear and easy retrieval, and a desk stand for current folders and work in action. Alternatively, if you decide to go paperless, you will need an efficient folder structure on your PC to store your scanned documents. A program such as Evernote allows you to store your documents in Notebooks with tags.

3. Schedule

“What gets scheduled, gets done.” If you want to get something done, stick it in your diary. Once you plan something it’s difficult to avoid doing it—you may move it from one week to the next, but you will eventually have to tackle it. If you find you are still ignoring a task, ask yourself whether it’s really important. Maybe it is no longer a priority and doesn’t need to be done at all. Planning your tasks is the best way to avoid been pulled in all directions by your own distracted mind, or by others looking for your time and attention. If you have allocated an hour for a project and someone comes looking for your help, you will be more likely to tell them to call back later or to schedule a time to speak to them.

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4. Disconnect

Once you have created a clear, clutter-free, organized environment, you need to do the same with your electronics. One of the chief time thieves of our day is technology; though created to make our lives easier, it is guilty of absorbing our minutes like an hourglass pulls sand to its base. If you want to achieve great things you need to be in control and not react to every bell and whistle that comes out of your electronic devices.

What to do?

Switch off all notifications from social networks, and go to these programs only when you allocate time for them; not when someone thinks their update is more important that you getting your work done.

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Process Emails twice or three times a day—turn off notifications, and batch process them.

Send fewer emails to receive fewer. Consider using other methods of communication appropriate to the message.

Shut down the Internet and your email when you are trying to get work done. If you find this too difficult, you could use something like Leechblock, a browser Add-on that will limit your access to the Internet during specified times of the day.

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5. Get Out of the House/Office

I’m writing this while sitting in a coffee shop. I come here to write; there is no Internet connection and all I can do is write or stare out the window at the wild sea, which helps my mind to focus on what I am doing. When I work from home I get distracted easily. Leaving the house and sipping a chai while writing allows me to get so much more done than I would at home.

Awareness

The first step to improving your situation is recognizing your own distractions and working on a solution to eliminate or reduce them from your life. It’s your life, and your responsibility to make the changes necessary to help you to reduce stress and get a hell of a lot more done.

 

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Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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