Distractions are everywhere these days, and if you’re not careful, they can eat away at your focus, your productivity, and your overall effectiveness when it comes to getting things done.
Everyone likes to blame the internet and being connected for their distractions, but there are so many more ways we can be distracted, including other people and our own tendency to procrastinate. Someone said to me the other day that it’s like we dawdle our lives away five minutes at a time, and I have to agree with them.
It’s really amazing how quickly time can get away from you if you’re not focused. Just this morning, I sat down to create this post knowing I had an hour to get it done. By the time I’d made a cup of tea, taken a phone call from my son, found the paperwork he was asking for, and decided what to write about, I had about 20 minutes left before I had to leave and go pick him up. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t write quickly enough to get a whole post done in 20 minutes.
The worst part of this example is that I know what to do to help keep me focused. I just don’t do it often enough, or consistently enough to get the results I want.
For me the question becomes one of how to overcome these bad habits. For others it can be that they don’t know where to start. Fortunately there are lots of successful examples of what successful people do to stay focused and achieve their goals.
Here are three habits that successful people have that you can adopt too…
Habit #1 –
Start with a clean slate
One of the easiest ways to get distracted is having a lot of visual clutter. Browser clutter and other forms of virtual clutter can all be distracting enough to mess up your focus. In fact, if you’re looking for proof, this 2011 study provides scientific evidence that clutter limits the brain's ability to focus and process information. As well, a more recent article in Psychology Today summarizes separate studies that show the negative effects of clutter on mental health.
If you absolutely must have your browser open, keep only the windows that you need visible. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of keeping Facebook and Email open and checking often for new messages. Facebook loves to distract even to the point of adding the number of new notifications waiting for you. It’s easy to feel like you have to check right now or miss out on something. You'll stay much more focused if you close them down and remove any temptation to check them until it’s time for a break.
The same thing goes for other social media sites, game sites, and blogs as well. Whether in a browser window, on your smartphone, or on a standalone app, you’ll be able to focus better if these are not in your line of sight.
Virtual clutter comes in many forms. The most common are:
- having too many windows open at once
- having too many icons on your desktop
- not having an organized filing system
All of these can be distracting when you’re trying to focus on the project at hand.
Get in the habit of having open only the window or program you are actually working on. Sometimes you need more than one, but you don’t need to have every program that you might need during the day open at the same time. Not only is it visually distracting, it’s a drain on your computer’s resources.
Use a timer
I’ve written about using a timer more than once, because it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to stay focused on the task at hand. Not only is it a great way to improve your focus, it’s also a great way to be more productive.
Setting a time limit for yourself also makes it easier to prioritize. If you know you’ve only got a 30 minute window to get something done, it’s easier to pick and choose the most important task to work on in that window.
Experts suggest that using the Pomodoro technique and working on either 25 or 50 minute cycles with a 5-10 minute break works best, but you can adapt this to whatever rhythm works best for you.
My personal preference is to do 30 or 45 minutes with a 15 minute break. This cycle gives me enough time to move around and do a little housework or get some exercise in between. It also helps clear my mind between tasks, which comes in handy when I write about so many different topics during the course of a day.
Practicing mindfulness – the art of being aware in the present moment – is a great way to avoid distraction and stay focused. It also works well when combined with the two habits already mentioned.
One way you can use mindfulness for focus is in paying attention to where your thoughts are. When your mind starts to wander and you feel the urge to head for Facebook or Twitter…
Instead of rushing to do something to fill the space, do a one minute breathing exercise instead. Alfred James has a nice easy breathing exercise on his blog, where to start with all you have to do is focus on your breath for one minute. This is one of my favorite ways to take a quick mental break, and then get back on track.
Improving your focus is a key to being more productive. By cultivating even one of these habits, you’ll have a better chance of sending distractions and procrastination to where they belong, and achieving your goals through focused productivity!
I’d love to know if you use any of these strategies and how they work for you. Please leave a comment below and let me know!