We all get distracted. Maybe once in a while, maybe constantly – our attention just slips away from the things we want to achieve. To reclaim your concentration, first define the type of distraction that catches you most often, then learn some practical ways to refocus.
1. Digital distractions – emails and social media
A message pings, your phone buzzes – electronic alerts keep us in the loop but also trigger the urge to instantly check and respond, which isn’t good for productivity or mental health. Studies have shown that constant exposure to social media and digital alerts overstimulates the brain. Without time to calm down or wander, the mind is never at rest. If you want a remedy for digital diversions, this is it:
Be the boss of your devices
The good news is that humans still rule over machines. You are the boss of your mobile and how (long) you interact with it. When you need to focus, set certain times to go offline, whether for 45 minutes or three hours. Be firm. Close those apps and turn off that phone! It’s hard the first few times, but will gradually feel easier and might even become second nature.
2. People distractions – kids and colleagues
There’s the friendly workmate who chats a little too long or your child who keeps crashing your conference calls. What’s missing from this picture? A crystal-clear message that you care about them, but you need to concentrate. Here’s how to create a peaceful bubble of productivity with others around:
Reach communication nirvana
Basically you’re looking for a nice way to say ‘Leave me in peace!’ – people need to understand that it’s important but not personal. For colleagues, this might take the form of a sign on your desk or a declaration in a team meeting that sometimes you’ll be disappearing for Quiet Focus Time. However, you choose to say it, do it kindly.
With kids at home, experiment with do-not-disturb indicators on your workspace door such as an ‘I’m in a meeting’ bike light, or a list of pre-prepared answers from mum. If your partner is home, plan alternating shifts so each parent can work in two-to-three-hour blocks. Be lavish with rewards (or bribery) for good behaviour.
3. Scheduled distractions – meetings
You’re busy from dawn to dusk sitting in meetings (or conference calls) which can make you feel overwhelmed and leave your attention fragmented. Maybe you’ve been too generous with your time. You’ve given so much to everyone else, there’s not enough left for your own work. Get ready to manage your most valuable resource!
Protect your precious time
Time is precious. Even the richest person in the world only has 24 hours in a day. So spend them wisely. Protect your time by setting boundaries and prioritizing. Practice setting limits by saying no (kindly) to unnecessary meetings, and find ways to delegate tasks. Keep one day a week meeting-free. If you’re not available, you’re not available.
4. Internal distractions – procrastination
Procrastination can be one of the hardest types of distraction to overcome. That’s because it comes from within. There are all kinds of causes for this internal productivity block: insecurity, perfectionism, stress, even good old-fashioned laziness. How to cope with it? Find your internal hurdles, break them up into tiny pieces, then just start.
Break your inner hurdles into little pieces
Be open with your inner self. If you understand why you avoid something then it won’t feel so daunting. To do a task you really can’t bear, break it up into tiny pieces and just start. Even five minutes of work is an achievement. Feel unsure? Just keep starting. It’s OK if you don’t know how to do everything, you’ll learn as you go. The more often you start, the more progress you’ll make.
Find your focus
Distraction-dodging habits are like muscles, they need flexing to become strong. In the beginning, you need lots of willpower and structure to set up a productive routine and a calm workspace where you can concentrate. Keep at it and you’ll get into a good work rhythm where you can find your focus and stay motivated.