Distractions are the biggest issue when it comes to lack of focus and concentration and loss of productivity.
Let’s have a closer look at what distractions are, where they come from and how you can effectively avoid and minimize them.
A distraction is anything that tries to grab your focus and shift it away from what you are currently doing. And once distracted, it can take you up to 23 minutes to fully focus again!
But where do distractions come from?
Internal distractions come from the inside, i.e. your mind. Internal distractions are your thoughts and worries, if you are tired or don’t feel well, but also if you’re daydreaming or mind-wandering. An untrained mind does engage in mind-wandering about 46% of the awake time. Luckily, like with physical exercise, you can train your mind to stay focused.
External distractions are distractions that come from the outside, so the environment around you. Think of notifications, catty co-workers, phone calls etc. They are the most difficult to overcome because they are so unpredictable and you have little control over them. And the best way to overcome external distractions is to proactively minimize the risk of getting distracted by them.
Here is a list of the most common triggers that might distract you and what you can do about them:
Distractions often come from the physical environment around you. People frequently coming in and out, unpredictable noise etc. are all sources of distractions as they keep your mind alert.
If you’re getting distracted by the people or the noise in the space you’re in, try to find a more tranquil space or corner.
Notifications lighting up your screen, app badges showing how many unread messages you’ve got, icons on your desktop sending you down all those different rabbit holes.
Visual distractions on your screen but also in the physical space around you are a serious form of distraction. Pay attention to what triggers your attention and make sure you remove any form of visual clutter, avoiding this way to keep getting distracted.
Your phone is a huge source of distraction. You are naturally drawn to every ring or notification and want to know what it is about because you never know if something might be important and need your immediate attention. This is however a huge distraction to your focus.
Put your phone in flight mode, turn silent mode on and flip your phone facing down. This way you’ll avoid seeing the screen lighting up and getting distracted all the time.
If you really need to be available for any urgent call then you can set your phone so that the very urgent calls, or specific callers, will still come through.
Slack is one of the most used communication tools within teams. However, it’s a huge source of distraction. Constant pinging and messaging are obviously distracting you if you’re trying to stay concentrated on a task.
You need to gain back control over your focus so that you decide when to check Slack and not the other way around. Turn off slack notifications and only check Slack when you’re not in the middle of your workflow.
Nobody can focus if the computer constantly displays notifications. It’s an incredible source of distraction and takes away your focus. It also creates anxiety because you see that someone has sent you a notification or written you an email leaving you wondering if it’s good or bad news.
Activate the Do Not Disturb mode on your computer so you won’t see those notifications any more bringing back some peace of mind to your screen.
Stop constantly checking your emails. Even simply seeing the visual notification that you’ve got a new email will mess up your focus and distract you. Also, keep in mind that just reading a message, regardless if it contains positive or negative content, can also negatively influence your concentration.
Schedule when you check your emails and only check them when you’re ready to read their content. Answer emails in batches for maximum efficiency.
Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, WhatsApp…the list of social media platforms is endless, and so is their negative impact on your focus. Social media is a major source of distraction using up your focus on their platforms instead of using it for your tasks. No matter if you lack self-control or are a victim of FOMO (fear of missing out), social media remains one of the biggest sources of distractions.
Limit your social media use and make sure that no notification (audio or visual) will disturb you while trying to focus. You can also take more drastic measures and delete social media apps from your phone to stop the temptation of interacting with them or schedule certain times at which you are allowed to check social media.
Alongside social media apps, there are many other apps that just want to grab your attention. It’s difficult to concentrate if all those shiny icons just want you to click on them or if they keep sending you notifications.
Check your phone statistics about the apps you’re spending most of your time on and be mindful of your usage. You can also uninstall them or define a specific time and timeframe in which you are allowed to use those apps.
The Internet can be a wonderful place full of resources but it’s also full of distractions and temptations. And since everything is just a click away, your mind will often try to get you to quickly check or look up something.
Get rid of the temptation and install a website blocker to help you stay focused on your task instead of giving in to all those distracting websites.
Noise distractions in the form of chatty co-workers, people on the phone or general office noise are the top distractions in the workplace.
Block out those noise distractions by listening to background sounds such as white noise, rain, ocean waves or the sound of a bustling coffee shop. By listening to background sounds you can mask annoying noises so as to not get distracted by them anymore. Use apps such as Noisli to create your own background sound for work or relax.
When all your tasks are scattered throughout your day without any clear structure, it will cause frequent task switching which will only drain your focus and isn’t efficient at all.
Batch similar tasks together and use the time blocking technique to block out time in your calendar when you will focus solely on the set tasks.
Distractions often come in the form of other people, whether they are physically dropping by your desk or messaging you in some way.
Avoid getting distracted by others by communicating in advance when you’re available and when not. Knowing that you won’t get distracted will also give you peace of mind to fully focus on your task.
You’re susceptible to distractions whenever you’re bored or experience a lack of interest or guidance. If it’s not clear what you should be doing or if the task is too complex and you don’t know where to begin, your mind will try to escape the struggle and give in to any kind of distraction.
In order to avoid getting distracted it’s therefore important that you have a clear To-Do list with actionable steps that keep you on track.
Trying to focus while knowing that the biggest and most important task for the day is still there lingering, is very difficult. Your mind will constantly get distracted by the urgency of that main task and build up unnecessary stress. Use the Eat the Frog method and work on your most important task first thing in the morning. This will get the biggest task out of the way and create peace of mind for the rest of the day.
The average adult has a natural attention span of about 25 minutes. After that, the mind naturally seeks a break. If you power through and try to focus for long periods without taking a break, your mind loses focus and you become even more vulnerable to distractions. Use the Pomodoro technique to work in sessions and to help you schedule frequent breaks so to manage your energy and avoid burnout.
You guessed right, multitasking is a myth. The human mind has evolved to single-task as humans can simply not perform two or more tasks simultaneously. Multitasking means rapidly and repeatedly shifting back and forth between tasks, requiring your focus to re-calibrate over and over which is very energy draining. By multitasking, you are basically constantly being distracted by the task you’re not doing at the moment.
Opt for single-tasking to safeguard your energy and optimize your focus.
Distractions get the better of you whenever you feel tired and are low in energy. If your mind is constantly drifting off, it’s a clear sign that you desperately need a break. Taking frequent breaks has many benefits and makes sure that you can recharge your batteries during your day. Once you’re back at your task, you will be able to get focused more easily and stay focused for longer.
Mind-wandering is when you shift your focus from the task at hand to something else. We do this about 46% of our awake time. Even if you try to focus hard, random thoughts, such as a new idea, another task you need to do later etc., will pop up in your head. This is normal but still very distracting.
Use a distraction list to write those thoughts down as they come up. This will give you an outlet while at the same time giving you peace of mind that you won’t forget those things.
Another internal distraction can come from your body. If you’re hungry or thirsty or simply lack the energy to perform a task, you will get constantly distracted. Make sure you eat healthy food and drink enough water throughout your day to fuel your body and brain with the needed energy.
Getting enough sleep also plays an important role in your ability to focus, as lack of sleep can cause you to lose focus and get distracted easily.
Not having a healthy work-life balance, will disrupt your focus throughout your day. If private life interferes while you should be focusing on work and if work distracts you from enjoying your private time with your loved ones, then you do not have a healthy work-life balance.
Set boundaries and try to keep as much as possible a clean line between work and private life, so that one does not interfere with the other.