Keep a Distraction Log
Our focus and well-intentioned desire to get work done is often washed away by distracting thoughts. Your mind can quickly begin to wander, thinking about your next meal or task. These thoughts can seem fleeting and harmless most of the time! However, working on digital devices with our phones nearby means we have to web at our fingertips. The temptation to Google that question that comes to mind is irresistible and before you know it, you’ve ended up down a rabbit-hole of distraction. Notifications, like our thoughts, can cause attention shifts away from the task at hand, encouraging us to check one more message or email. The good thing is we can easily set limits on our notifications or adopt new habits when it comes to using our phones at our workspace.
However, our thoughts and urges are more difficult, they can’t be switched off but they can be managed. Instead of reacting to those thoughts, questions and urges, write them down in a distraction list or log. You can categorise these notes if you have a lot of distracting thoughts. For example, you might want to keep a tally for each time you go to check your phone or emails unnecessarily. You can add other thoughts to a to-do list or to-search section on the page, or have separate sticky notes. The idea is to jot them down quickly and set aside for later. This way, you don’t have to fight off those urges and thoughts, just delay them until after you’ve finished the task at hand. You might be able to identify some common distractions by doing so and address these later on. This is worthwhile because some things can go unnoticed, while we know our computers and phones are distracting, other distractions will often replace those even if we remove them. This log can help you see what distracts you the most.
What if you’ve already been bouncing from one distraction to another for a few hours now? It gets tiring trying to convince yourself to just focus. This frustration and guilt can make it harder to hit reset so, don’t battle with yourself. Instead, stop everything and take a break! During this break, find a way to clear your mind. One good way to hone your focus before starting or restarting work is to meditate, this can help release tension in your body and clear your mind from clutter. Meditation can be a stepping stone for entering the flow state of work and overtime this can signal it’s time to focus on the task at hand. Alternatively, taking a short nap or walk can also provide a meditative experience that allows you to clear your mind and come back refreshed.
Optimise for Focus
Truth is, we can’t simply think ourselves into a focused state. Telling yourself to sit and work without setting up the right environment is unlikely to work. Instead, ensure your workspace is distraction free as possible and ready for your needs. Using your distraction log, you might find certain things in your workspace are distracting or find you work better under certain conditions. You might focus better if you have a clear and well-lit workspace or maybe, you prefer to work in the dark with some soft lighting. Create the space that is right for you. Before working, take 5 minutes to clear up any clutter, this can help trigger a focused state too if it becomes a habit.
Likewise, it’s not just about physical space but our inner space too. It can be hard to focus if you’re tired or hungry. It’s important to take care of your mental and physical wellbeing, and naturally, this can improve focus. For example, sugary snacks might curb cravings but also make you feel tired later during the work day. These small but powerful changes can make a huge difference to your focus during the workday and make it easier to navigate distractions. This is also a good opportunity to consider whether you’re organising your time and tasks well. If you’re trying to work on big projects, with no clear goal for each day or task, it will be much easier for your mind to wander away.
Finally, really take note of your achievements for the day or working period. What did you do and what does it mean? You might be one step closer to finishing a project. This can actually make it easier to focus later, because you’re able to see progress and want to continue. You might have had a breakthrough or idea that was key to the next development in your work. Maybe, you managed to stay off your phone while working. Taking time to reflect can bring a sense of value and importance to what we’re doing, rather than feeling as if we’re carrying so many to-dos. While this is a nice way to feel that you’re progressing, remember to treat yourself regardless, getting down time can reduce those cravings for distraction when it’s time to work. You might find it easier to focus for that time knowing you’ll get to do something more enjoyable later.