We live in a world of distraction.
From the constant buzz of incoming text message alerts through to ceaseless chatter and noise in the office, it can be hard at the best of times to concentrate and get work done.
Think about your daily routine – do you ever find yourself:
- Feeling distracted from your work?
- Struggling to find focus?
- Procrastinating important tasks?
- Not getting as much done as you would like?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then you need to keep reading.
In this article I’m going to teach you six of the most effective ways to eliminate distraction, find your focus and get more done by beating procrastination.
Whether you’re a student struggling to concentrate on your studies, an office worker needing to get more done to keep your boss off your back, or an entrepreneur whose very business survival is dependent on, you will get value from this article.
Use Website Blocking Software to Free Dozens of Hours Each Week
How much time do you think you waste on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking websites?
According to a 2013 Ipsos study, we spend an average of 3.6 hours a day getting social online. This figure doesn’t even include the use of other websites such as online stores or message boards.
My point should already be obvious – if you are wasting precious time every day on social media or other specific websites, then you need to do something about it. Otherwise you are simply throwing time down the drain, which you can never get back.
The easiest solution is to deploy a site-blocking tool (I use StayFocusd for Google Chrome) that allows you to set up a blacklist of websites that unnecessarily consume what would otherwise be productive time.
There are different solutions depending what browser, operating system or device type you use. However, any solution that allows you to create a list of sites and a maximum daily time limit for them (before you are blocked until the next day) will work fine.
All that is left is for you to identify the sites that waste your time, and then add them to the list. It pays to be honest here; don’t leave a site off the blacklist if you do have a problem with using it to waste time.
Think about the productivity and future benefit you can generate by using your “social media time” in a more effective manner.
Here’s a personal anecdote to show you the value of diverting focus from time-wasting websites to other tasks: A few years ago I was spending at least two hours a day on Facebook.
This meant that every week I was losing 14 hours scouring albums of friends’ party photos, and clicking pointless cat video links. This was time I could never claim back. I decided that something had to be done and blocked myself from visiting Facebook for more 30 minutes a day using a site blocking browser tool.
This extra 1.5 hours I now had in my day was put to productive use. I started a blog (about overcoming laziness and procrastination, funnily enough) which has continued to pay dividends ever since.
It now earns me some handy extra money every month, which I can put towards paying bills or keeping myself in guitar equipment. The blog also serves as a fantastic channel for my “creative energy”, which keeps me feeling positive and energetic.
Had I not banished that 90 minutes of daily Facebook browsing, I would never have had enough time to create my blog (although I would have been a mastermind on cat videos!)
Interval-Only Phone Checking to Enhance Focus & Beat Procrastination
Search around your desk or workspace for your mobile phone. Is it within arms’ reach? Chances are it most likely is!
Cell phone addiction 21st Century affliction, in which we find ourselves constantly checking our phones for the latest text message or missed call.
Unfortunately, this is disastrous for productivity. Constantly checking your phone for missed texts or calls will distract you from productive work, and encourage hours of needless procrastination on a weekly basis.
The best solution I have discovered is to be absolutely ruthless with allowing yourself an opportunity to check your phone only at set intervals.
When I need to get work done I will only check my phone once every thirty minutes. If there are no messages or missed calls, then I put it down immediately and get back to work. During this “phone free time” I actually place the device in a draw, so it is out of sight and out of mind.
By keeping your phone checking to a regular schedule you are less likely to become distracted by the oh-so-addictive nature of text messaging and mobile browsing!
NOTE FROM BRENDAN: Also, check out my article titled “Why Technology SUCKS! Lose Your Phone and Find Happiness” which looks at the link between phone/technology addiction and happiness.
Write a Daily To-Do List to Guide You to Productivity and Action
I’m a firm believer in to-do lists as being one of the most effective ways to help you find focus and prevent distraction from taking hold.
You should enter every new day armed with a comprehensive checklist of tasks you want to complete.
These tasks can encompass work-related items, such as completing an important report or filling out your expenses through to everyday tasks like fetching groceries or arranging a service for your car.
Before you go to bed each night, you should create a to-do list for the following day. Leave some time free for tasks or duties that pop up unexpectedly (such as when you get to work and your boss tells you that you have to drop everything and do something urgently) but nonetheless be as detailed and as comprehensive as possible.
A to-do list that has been well thought out will help you to overcome procrastination, as it challenges you to ensure that every item is completed in time.
Make it a personal credo to never get to the end of the day without having finished all the tasks on your list.
The amount of extra work you will get done by following this strategy will astound you.
Use Noise-Canceling Headphones to Prevent Distraction & Improve Mental Clarity
This is one of my “secret” strategies for eliminating distraction, especially in an office or college library environment.
I’m sure you don’t need reminding how frustrating it can be when people come up to your desk or workspace when you are supposed to be working, and then distract you from getting stuff done.
The solution is simple: You need to create the impression that you are hard at work.
As a rule, most people are loath to interrupt others who appear fixed deeply in a state of productivity.
By wearing headphones while you work, you are sending a strong message to your co-workers that you are doing important work, and you should therefore not be interrupted.
I recommend noise-canceling headphones because they also provide the benefit of blocking out distracting noises, such as others talking around you, and help you to establish a mental sanctuary from which you can elevate your focus and drive.
Take a look in your local electronics store (or online) and find a pair that suits your budget. If you want to eliminate distractions and get more work done, then you cannot afford to ignore this method.
Discourage Unnecessary Face-to-Face Interactions with Colleagues to Minimize the Risk of Distraction
If you find yourself in an environment where the headphones trick wont work (e.g. your office has a policy against allowing employees to wear them) then you need to be a bit more overt when it comes to telling others not to distract you.
In any place that values productivity and effective work, you should not have to feel bad about asking those around you to refrain from disturbing you.
In a few different offices I’ve worked in, I asked my managers whether they had any problem with me sending a friendly group email to my colleagues asking if they wouldn’t mind emailing me first with any requests before coming to see me in person.
The benefit of this strategy is immense: It allows you to “screen” for pointless distractions before they invade your personal space bubble.
The annoying co-worker who was about to come and divert your attention away … just to tell you spoilers from the new Game of Thrones episode? Now he either has to email you first (and how likely are you to give him permission to distract you?) or more likely he will just not bother at all.
Another tactic worth using is to put up a do not disturb sign, during times when you really are pressed to get lots done. This will help you to prevent distraction by discouraging others from interrupting your important work.
If you’ve ever read The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, then you’ll probably recall that he was a big fan of creating a working environment where you control other peoples’ access to your time and focus.
I support this idea too; and by politely requesting that your colleagues (and even friends and family) avoid “unsolicited” attempts to pull you away from your work during the times you need to be productive, you’ll soon develop much better focus and grow a productivity mindset.
NOTE FROM BRENDAN: If you don’t have an office, you can get creative and have a pink, fluffy bear which indicates to those around you that you are focused on a task and do not want to be distracted. It might take some time for your co-workers to get used to this, but once they do they will all respect your time… plus it adds some fun to the workplace!
De-Clutter Your Workspace to Create an Environment That Promotes Taking Action
Visual clutter is highly distracting for most people. It provides an avenue for diverting full attention to the work you need to complete.
Therefore, one of the most effective strategies you can deploy to enhance your focus and prevent distraction is to reduce that clutter.
I suggest starting with your physical surroundings. If your desk looks more like a battleground than a cohesive workspace, then you need to start tidying in a ruthless manner.
If you’re working in front of a computer, then try de-cluttering to the point where you only have your screen, keyboard, and mouse in front of you.
Invest in some drawers (if your desk doesn’t already have them) and put other items, such as notepads and pens, in there – keeping them out of sight and unable to distract you, but still within arms’ reach if you need them.
Another thing to consider is removing clutter from your computer itself.
A computer desktop that is littered with icons and folders does not make for a streamlined or efficient workspace, where you can easily take action and get work done.
Arrange your documents using a precise folder system, and try to keep visual clutter to a minimum. Another benefit of this is that you’ll be able to use your computer more efficiently – you’ll find it easier to locate important documents and files.
While I’m on this subject, a true distraction demon that you need to avoid where possible is tabbed browsing. As computers and smart devices have become ever more powerful, the ability for us to have loads of browser tabs, windows, and programs open at once has grown dramatically.
While more powerful computing is a great thing, it also has its downsides for those of us who struggle with distraction and wasting time online: Tabbed browsing and multiple programs make it too easy to flick from work to play.
Your brain simply cannot process all that information as once; so stick to having a couple of tabs/windows/programs open at once. Your favorite online shopping site isn’t going to disappear if you no longer have it open every time you hit the Internet!
You don’t need to be a slave to distraction, lack of focus, and inaction.
By deploying the strategies you have learned in this article, you’ll be able to develop hawk-like focus, and kick procrastination to the curb.
I’ve armed you with the tools … now get out there and finish the job! The benefits you’ll see in everyday life that accompany better focus and motivation will last you a whole lifetime.