I recently spent an entire day procrastinating because of distractions. First, I couldn’t tear myself away from YouTube, then I realised I had to put some washing on and clean the dishes from the night before. When I finally sat down to work with the TV playing in the background, the noise and the voices weren’t helping me concentrate. I kept receiving emails whenever a new comment appeared on my blog, or when a service I had signed up for sent me something, so my phone was constantly alerting me. Throughout the day I alternated between working in small chunks of time and getting up and doing something completely unrelated to work. Needless to say I was getting very little done.
I realised that if I wanted to accomplish anything, I had to act. I’ve already given some advice on how you can minimise distractions in this post, and now here are some more tips I’ve compiled to help you and I combat distractions in our daily lives.
1) Eat a good breakfast
Numerous studies have proven that eating a healthy breakfast helps with concentration, and will give you energy and help keep you productive well into the day. It’s important to avoid having a heavy meal as it will leave you feeling sluggish, but a light meal won’t provide you with the necessary calories to function properly. But what if you’re not hungry in the morning? I used to skip breakfast all the time during school for this reason, and the P.E. lessons right before break time left me with no energy whatsoever. So after learning this, I would force myself to eat, but that would only make me feel sick. I often wouldn’t finish what was on my plate. The optimal solution here is to take snacks with you to eat an hour or two after waking up, when the hunger sets in.
2) Work in a quiet space
Oh boy, am I familiar with noisy distractions… the loudest of which are barking dogs, and neighbours slamming doors and shouting as if no one can hear them. Don’t worry, there are several ways to block out noise. Try moving to another room where it’s more difficult for outside noise to reach you, and close all doors and windows. If the noise is still throwing you off, put on headphones to drown it out. This is a great time to play your favourite music, audiobooks or podcasts to motivate yourself to get into working mode. And if the noise gets really bad, perhaps you’d be better off bringing this to your neighbour’s attention and asking nicely to keep it down. If they’re empathetic they will understand. I suppose a last resort would be to move!
3) Get household obligations out of the way first
This one is for those of you who work at home. Take care of your obligations early in the morning so they won’t distract you later on in the day. Feed the cat or dog, if you have kids help them get ready for school, get the mail, whatever it may be. Once you have these small tasks sorted out you’ll be far less likely to mentally wander and think, ‘I should really water the plants before I forget,’ and before you know it you’re re-planting your entire garden.
4) Clean the room you’re working in
If you’re anything like me, you hate working in untidy conditions. You’re working at the kitchen table near a sink full of dirty dishes, and before long you find yourself scrubbing away for the next hour getting it all clean. If possible, clean up the room you plan to work in the night before and you won’t be tempted to dust or vacuum because it gets you out of doing your job.
5) Keep your desk clear, comfortable and well lit
Your desk is probably the space you’ll be working in 90% of the time, so you want to be as comfortable as possible. For the sake of your eyes make sure your area is well lit with plenty of natural light, and keep a desk lamp handy for those dark winter days. Get a comfortable chair so you won’t be tempted to move. Lastly, if you’re easily distracted by objects on your desk, only keep the things you need; computer, notepad, pen, phone, water, and clear out everything else. These were all very effective for me when I was working in an office, and I was moving around and adjusting everything a lot less frequently as a result.
6) Reduce phone interruptions
Phones can be an enormous, constant distraction, especially if you’re prone to checking it all the time. Try turning off unnecessary notifications and putting it on silent. If you’re still checking it, turn your phone off completely. But what if you’re expecting important calls? Easy. Put it in the next room and turn the volume all the way up. You may jump out of your seat when it rings but you’ll never miss a call!
7) Manage time spent on emails
You start up your computer and automatically check your emails. You respond to a couple and before you know it, you’ve spent most of your morning typing out messages that probably could have waited until later. In the morning, decide on the amount of time you want to spend on emails (perhaps 10-20 minutes) and when that time is up, divert your attention to actual work. Feel free to check your email during breaks, but don’t get sucked into unrelated or unimportant emails.
8) Get apps that block social media
Blocks are not only useful for keeping young kids from accessing apps and sites they shouldn’t be; it’s a great way to help working adults from wandering away from the task at hand. If you can’t resist checking twitter or facebook all day long, get an app that will stop you from logging into these sites for a certain amount of time. Click here for a list of apps that aim to reduce time spent on social media and the internet in general.
9) Work full screen
It isn’t just social media that can be detrimental to your working habits. Some programs are cluttered with buttons you don’t really use, and your desktop may be littered with tabs and windows you’re not currently focusing on. This makes clicking onto something else all the more tempting. Force yourself to work in a program in full screen mode, and only have one window open while on the net. If you need another, blow it up so it’s the only thing you can see, then close it as soon as you’re done with it. There are also distraction free writing programs that only show text to discourage you from wandering. These are great not only for writers, but for anyone whose job involves typing. Click here for a list of distraction free writing programs.
10) Stick to a schedule
Write down everything you need to accomplish for the day and when you’re going to do them in a planner, calendar, or on sticky notes. Find what works best for you. Also consider what time of the day you’re the most productive, and set aside time for projects then. Are you a morning person who can jump out of bed and start working straight away? Or are you someone who’s motivated by the night?
11) Work on small tasks
It’s difficult to work up the motivation to start when you have a big project that seems like it’ll take forever to finish. Split up large projects into smaller tasks and do one thing at a time. You’ll feel much less overwhelmed if you only need to concentrate on one task that doesn’t require a huge amount of time to complete. Baby steps!
12) Give yourself a break
Can you power through an 8 hour day without a break? What about a 12 hour day? 16 hours? Neither can I. Working hours on end will inevitably cause you to crash and burn. Schedule small breaks every now and then to organise your thoughts, read something, or go for a short walk. Steer clear of games and social media if you know you can’t break away from them easily.
13) Let your family know not to disturb you
If you work at home and you have a spouse or kids or pets (or maybe all of the above) around the house, disturbances can be less than welcoming when you’re trying to work. It’s not that you don’t love them; you just need peace and quiet and for them to stop coming in and out of the room all day long. So kindly let them know that you’d like to not be disturbed within certain hours unless it’s an emergency. And if they forget, try locking the door or put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign.
14) Keep water and snacks handy
Having water on your desk during the day is a must, so keep a full water bottle nearby to keep yourself hydrated and focused. Keeping snacks in your pocket or desk drawer will prevent you from getting up during your working time to get food when you’re hungry. The more times you need to move away from your desk, the more likely you’ll find something that pulls you away from your duties.
15) Keep end goals in mind
If you’re struggling to get through it all, just remember why you’re doing this in the first place – think about your end goal. Your ultimate dream in life. Put up notes and pictures around your office and/or home to remind you and always take steps in that direction to make it a reality.
Finding what works for you is important, so what are the techniques you use to keep yourself focused and on track?
© Lisa Bradbury