How to Minimize Distractions and Maintain Focus
It’s no wonder that many of us suffer from a mild case of ADD. From the moment we wake up, people, thoughts, technology and our never-ending to-do list all vie for our attention. While all of these items need our attention, they do not all need our attention n-o-w, nor are they all of equal importance. Although this makes good sense, most of us can’t help but get distracted and discouraged. The good news is that, even though it’s several weeks into the New Year, it’s not too late to make a resolution to be more intentional with your time. Read on for some tips to minimize distractions and maintain your focus so you can actually get “stuff” done.
Pick Your Priorities – To maintain your focus, you first need to know what you should focus on. Take the time to write out what needs to get done, both in your personal and professional life. Assign to each task a number from one to three: one being an item that requires your immediate focus; two being an item that requires your attention in the shorter term and three being an item that can wait. Looking at only the “ones,” prioritize the list and then plan your day and week. Here’s the tough part: Make the commitment to yourself that you will focus on only those tasks that are earmarked for that day. For anything else that pops up, simply add it to your list and assign it a number. As you plan your day, be realistic in what you can accomplish so you set yourself up for success. Also remember to revisit your list often, as your priorities will shift.
Tackle Your Technology – Is technology a blessing or a curse? It’s debatable sometimes but one thing is for sure…It needs to be managed. Notifications from all of our various programs and apps can be helpful, yes, but also distracting. (It’s Pavlovian – we often feel the need to look at a message as soon as it comes in.) Here’s a novel idea. Turn off those pesky notices and actually close out from Skype, email and social media. Instead schedule specific times of the day when you’ll receive and return messages. Not only will this help to eliminate distractions, it will ensure that you take a break from the task at hand. Chances are that when you go back to what you were doing, you’ll feel a bit more refreshed and ready to maintain your focus.
Clear the Clutter – Consider this. A study by Princeton University found that people often performed poorly on cognitive tasks when the items directly in their view were in disarray (as opposed to neatly arranged). What this means is that all of the papers, Post-it notes and folders scattered on your desk are a distraction. Ditto for all of the pictures and tchotchkes prominently displayed on the shelves around you. Let us also not forget about “computer clutter” – i.e. all of the documents, programs and browsers that are open on your computer at any one time. When it comes to clutter, less is more so think about limiting some of the “stuff” around you. You might also consider setting aside a few minutes each day to tidy up your desk and desktop. Not only will a clutter-free environment be more visually appealing, it will create the space (literally and figuratively) for you to focus.
Address Your Needs – Very often we can be distracted by our own needs – hunger, thirst, discomfort, sleepiness and stress. Know your patterns and plan accordingly. If you know that you get hungry in-between meals, have a snack at the ready. If you’re prone to headaches or fatigue, keep a bottle of water close by. If you’re internal thermometer runs hot or cold, dress in layers so you can be comfortable regardless of the room temperature. Most importantly, if you’re susceptible to boredom, mix up your to-do list. Remember to get up and walk around (or stretch) every hour or so to keep your blood pumping and your energy level up. A little self-care can go a long way in managing these internal distractions so that you can stay focused.
Let’s face it. We live in a world that is fighting tooth and nail to set us off course with the many distractions thrown at us. Training your mind to stay focused is like working a muscle. There more you do it, the easier it becomes and the stronger you will be! Make 2017 the year that you stay focused, so that this time next year, you’ll look back and know your time was well spent.