It’s 3 pm. You’re only 50% done with the task that’s due at 5 pm. Yet… Despite the looming deadline, you can’t help but attend to every ‘ping’ of your mobile phone; every new email that lands in your email; and that pesky fly that’s circling your half-eaten sandwich. Distractions are everywhere. To make matters worse, research shows that it can take you more than 20 minutes to refocus when your attention is completely derailed.
Meaning that if you get distracted for 6 more times? You’re not going to make your deadline. Thankfully, there are a few proven strategies that’ll help you take back control of your time and attention.
#1 – Get rid of external distractions
If you’re picking up your mobile phone or switching to your Facebook tab (or both!) every 30 seconds, you need to find a way to eliminate these distractions. Switch your phone off. Or, if that's not possible, put it on airplane mode till you've completed your task. Also, use tools like Cold Turkey to block out websites (e.g. Facebook, Buzzfeed, and Bored Panda) that are a known distraction for you.
Find yourself getting distracted by your partner’s movements around the house? Get into a separate room and close the door. When distractions are out of sight, it’ll be easier for you to stay focused.
#2 – Get rid of background noise
Think that small café down the road, with its cute macarons, is perfect for getting your work done? Think again. Muted conversations and background music may seem like they're boosting your productivity, but in reality, the opposite holds. In a 2019 study, researchers recorded participants' eye movements as they read the text. They found that those who’d listened to irrelevant background speech needed to re-read the passage more often than those in a silent room.
But what if you can’t stand silence? Don’t listen to music with lyrics–instead, play instrumental music (e.g. lo-fi beats) with little to no lyrics. This might help you reach a state of flow.
#3 – Tackle the small stuff later
It’s easy to get distracted by the little tasks–random emails, a colleague’s DM, and your electricity bill–that come up over the day. And because they seem like they'd take 5 minutes to get done… It's tempting to stop what you're doing and knock them out. But you shouldn't. Switching over to the next task takes your focus away from what you're doing. And as mentioned earlier, you could take up to 20 minutes to refocus after that! That's why you should always make a list of the critical things you have to complete during the day. Make it short. Then, whenever something new comes up, ask yourself: "Is this on the list?" If it's not, leave it till later. Finish the task on hand.
Don’t have the habit of making a to-do list? You should start. And if you need help, The Daily Routine Journal is perfect for you. It only gives you 5 lines for your to-do list so you can be crystal-clear on the tasks that are genuinely essential in helping you move forward in your life goals. Check out how others have destroyed distractions and regained focus here.