How to Cut Distractions and Be More Productive
We all want to get more from life. But It seems like nowadays we’re constantly being bombarded with one distraction after another. From endless emails to the fomo of social media, it can be hard to maintain your focus throughout the day.
So whether you’re trying to be more productive at work or just want a richer personal life, managing and/or eliminating distractions is essential. Here are a few things to help you get started on the path to a more focused mind.
Breaking the negative cycle
The fact that you’re here is a great sign. Because the first step is to acknowledge what habits/influences are keeping you from being more productive.
What is it that holds you back? Pay attention to how you’re spending your time, and figure out what areas need improvement. Write them down if you have to. You’ll need to create a system that works for you. Because breaking the cycle of poor focus and distractibility does takes some work. But with real effort and a little dedication, you can change your habits for the better. And you don’t need to be a superhuman to do it.
Manage your stress levels
You may not know it, but stress can actually be a major hindrance to your ability to focus. It can cause us to jump from one distraction to the next, reduce our attention spans, and even impair our short-term memories.
While shorter bouts of elevated stress can actually help us focus and perform better, long-term, chronic stress can do the opposite (and worse).
When we’re under stress, our bodies naturally produce the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to cope. But when these chemical compounds remain elevated for long periods of time, it can lead to serious health issues, including impaired cognition and even “atrophy of brain mass”. Yikes. Don’t let your brain mass atrophy folks! Manage your stress. You’ll be more productive and it will help your general health and wellness.
Create a distraction free workspace
This one’s especially important now that many of us are working from home. Like a cluttered mind, a cluttered workstation can lead to distractions and temptations to wander. So do everything you can to eliminate them. Dedicate some specific space to your “office” if you can, or get as close to it if you can’t.
And yes, this includes human distractions too.
Make sure your family/roommates/office mates know when you mean business. Close the door if possible, or get noise canceling headphones. If you can eliminate the distractions before they even start to tempt your attention then you’ll be halfway there already.
Get a handle on the digital temptations too
Once your physical workspace is good to go, you need to consider your virtual workspace – ie your computer, phone, whatever digital distractions are looming large.
Stop checking Facebook/Instagram every 30 seconds. Quit jumping from one browser to the next (nothing has changed!). Just say no to the YouTube rabbit hole.
Whatever your Achilles’ heel, work on ways to control these nagging impulses. Here are a few methods to consider if you need a little help;
• Turn off the apps and alerts
• Set your phone to silent or keep it at a distance if you can
• Close any unnecessary browser windows
• Use software to monitor your digital behavior (yes, it might get ugly)
Prioritize your tasks and get in the zone
Most of us feel like we have a million things to do at any given time. So developing a system to prioritize is a must. Try to focus on the most important AND urgent tasks first. Then develop a system for managing the rest.
You may also want to consider knocking out the busywork tasks first. And then give yourself more dedicated time for tasks that require more thought and concentration. Prominent psychologist and behavior researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, coined the word “flow” to describe when we’re in a state of heightened productivity and optimal performance. Basically it’s like being in the zone. You’re locked in, hyper focused, and time seems to slip by naturally. It’s where you want to be.
Csikszentmihalyi’s findings suggest flow is more likely to happen when certain criteria are met – the task is challenging enough to engage (but not overly difficult), there’s some sort of feedback loop, and you’re able to concentrate and focus all of your energy into the task. Not only does this make us more productive, but it actually makes us happier. So do what you can to create an optimal environment for achieving flow. You can also check out his books and other research if you want to learn more.
Take an actual break
Rather than take endless micro breaks throughout the day by constantly checking your phone, consider taking an actual break. Get away from your desk and do something completely unrelated to work. Go for a walk, get some exercise, read a book. Whatever.
By creating some mental separation from your work, you’ll reduce those harmful stress hormones and give our brain a much needed breather. Exercise has the added benefit of actually making you healthier too. And the increased blood flow and surging endorphins might just help you power through the rest of your day.
Challenge yourself and have some fun!
At the end of the day, your work should hopefully be enjoyable (somewhat at least). Okay, certain parts won’t be fun, that’s why it’s called work. But do what you can to maximize the enjoyment. Set realistic and manageable goals for yourself and create rewards for meeting them. Make a game out of it.
And if you find yourself procrastinating, give yourself less time. Something called Parkinson’s Law tells us that we tend to fill the time we give ourselves. Chances are you’ve already experienced this phenomenon for yourself. So set a concrete deadline for a certain project, and hold yourself accountable to it.
Ultimately, we all want to find joy in what we do. And the less distracted we are, the more productive we feel. And the more satisfaction and fulfillment we get from what we do.
Anything else we can help you with?