Strategies for overcoming distractions
Work for a bit. Scroll through Instagram. Do a little more work. Watch pointless videos on YouTube. A little more work, then it’s time for your umpteenth coffee of the day and it’s just 10am!
If you identify with this procrastination practice, don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone is guilty in one way or another. In fact, a recent study showed that the average person is distracted every 40 seconds when working in front of their computer. Sometimes it is easy to get back to the task at hand, but when your attention is completely disrupted, research show that it can take more than 20 minutes to refocus!
So how do you take control and maintain your attention span while working or studying? Here are four easy techniques you can use to regain your focus.
Set three daily goals.
Having a long list of tasks might seem overwhelming and tedious to maintain focus throughout the large list of things. You tend to lose interest even before you begin and make yourself vulnerable to distractions.
The best way is to follow the Rule of Three. When you work with greater intent, you focus on what’s important. Maintain 2 list of things, with one containing 3 important tasks (“ninja” tasks as I call it) that you want to complete by the end of the day and another with less important tasks. Write the “ninja” tasks on a sticky note and post it where you can see it every time you look up from your work. What makes this strategy so effective is that three things fit easily within our attention span. Ranking them in order of importance ensures that the bulk of your achievements are done first and then you can focus on the secondary task list.
By refining the number of daily goals, you’ll have a clear definition on what you need to work on. You’ll be more resolute on those tasks and your mind will be less likely to go astray.
Switch on your distraction-free mode.
Try and adopt habits that will help you remove distractions and stay focused. Create an environment in which you’re less likely to get busy with something other than your task at hand. Almost everyone depends on the use of computers to get their work done. It is a daunting task to maintain focus when your biggest distraction is on the computer, the Internet. If you constantly find yourself deviating towards videos or other entertainment sites, try a website blocker for the duration of the task at hand.
Establish habits that indicate people around you that you are in distraction-free mode to avoid getting interrupted. Close the door of your office or work in a library. Put on noise-cancelling headphones. Put your phone in a place where you can’t easily pick it up. Try and work in a silent environment as studies have shown that distractions happen 64% more often in an open office or workplace where the interruption is often caused by other people rather than the environment itself.
Eliminate as many excuses as you can so you can bring your full attention to one task at a time and avoid multitasking where possible.
Work on difficult tasks and do more of it.
Working on a challenging task stimulates all your mental capacities to complete a difficult problem. Challenges help you engage and build focus towards achieving the objectives at hand.
Complex tasks require more of our working memory, attention and understanding, reducing your ability to focus on other distractions. This effect is known as Parkinson’s law; sometimes distractions come from internal and external factors, but often they appear because we’re not being challenged enough by our work. Evaluate your tasks in terms of difficulty level and see if your concentration is being impacted by tedium.
Make a game out of it
Just like any muscle, our minds need a work out to exercise. Training our brains to stay focused by regularly working on our concentration and strengthen our ability to focus for longer periods of time is a great way to improve your productivity in the long term.
A great way to do this is through the “Pomodoro Method,” in which you set an alarm and completely focus on a task for a period, such as a 45 minutes shift. Then reward yourself with a 15-minute break.
If 45 minutes is too long for you then start with something more suitable to you, such as 25 minutes, and then give yourself a five-minute break. The purpose is to make a game of it and continually test yourself to work thoroughly on your task until the alarm goes off. Then allow yourself to enjoy whatever distraction you want but only for a fixed time.
After the break, it’s back to work again. You’ll be surprised by how much you work you get done by this method without the stress of unfinished work or pending tasks at hand.
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