Distractions are everywhere. Of course, the smartphone is everyone’s favourite villain, with suggestions that we spend too much time staring at screens and not enough time interacting with each other. In reality, even without smartphones, we can be easily distracted from what we’re doing, whether we’re at work, home, with the kids or even at the gym, and it doesn’t have to be by technology.
For example, at the office, there are so many potential distractions waiting. When you should be checking your emails, it’s much more fun to talk to a colleague about their plans for the weekend. When you should be starting a key project, you may find yourself self-soothing by reorganising your paperwork.
At home there are just as many distractions. With so much to do, it can be easy to forget to enjoy the simple pleasures like playing with the kids for half an hour or letting them help you prepare the family dinner or bake cookies.
Distractions stop us from doing “deep work”. Deep work gives you a sense of fulfilment by being fully connected and focused, making the time fly by.
Becoming distracted is a habit that can be hard to overcome. Your mind can wander to other tasks rather than the one you are working on if you’re challenged, bored, unmotivated, procrastinating, or even trying to multitask.
While the pervasive wisdom is that women excel at multitasking. Of course, the truth is that multitasking just makes every task take a little bit longer, leading to even more feelings of overwhelm.
Here are five ways to help to reduce distractions and focus deeply:
Limit social media
This doesn’t have to mean deleting social media completely, although it can help if you remove social media apps from your phone. Even just putting your phone somewhere you can’t easily reach, for example on the other side of the room or in a drawer, can help break that habit of subconsciously reaching for it.
There are also apps that are designed to keep you motivated and on task. For example, Flipd – Keep Focused tracks productivity, locks distracting apps and has many other wellness resources to help. Forest – Stay Focused turns not touching your phone into a game, rewarding you with trees for your virtual garden for the time you stay off your phone (and ultimately planting real trees as well).
For some people, silence is unbearable and distracting in its own right while, for others, even the slightest bit of background noise can be distracting. It’s important to understand which camp you fall into so you can set up your environment appropriately.
If you are the kind of person who likes a little background noise then it’s about choosing what type of noise and when.
One thing at a time
For decades, women have been told that we’re better at multitasking than men are. However, recent research has debunked this theory. The truth is that women just do more work!
Multitasking can hinder your overall productivity as you jump from task to task. Although you may feel like you’ve achieved many tasks during the day, switching between tasks prevents you from engaging deeply and interrupts productivity. Instead of multitasking, try focusing on one task at a time and see if this makes a difference to your productivity and your stress levels.
Put the task you don’t want to do first
When you put off tasks that you don’t want to do, they tend to loom in the back of your mind as you become increasingly unmotivated to do them. By doing the tasks you don’t want to do first, you get them over and done with fast, and you’re able to get on with the other things in your day without the dread.
Take a break if you start feeling bored
If you’ve hit a block or are feeling bored or restless on your current task, take a break. However, don’t take a break to go onto social media. Use this break to doing something relaxing or that stimulates the brain, like taking a short walk. If you have the time for a longer break, exercising can also activate the body and brain to increase your attention and concentration.
Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, try to be all there and engaged. Distractions are commonplace, so learning how to concentrate and deeply work will be a valuable skill for your productivity, relationships and your wellbeing.