Our world has become a perpetual feed of information, entertainment, and noise as a result of the strong presence of the Internet. It’s difficult for us to stay focused when everything demands our instant attention — from the pinging of our digital devices to the chatter of our children in the adjacent room. Our phones have evolved from residing at home to now living directly in front of our eyes wherever we go. Information is now accessible from nearly every corner of our world, with breaking news arriving at lightning speed. We are relentlessly bombarded with advertisements on nearly every flat surface, enticing us to participate in the next ‘big’ trend. Each distraction that occurs comes with one goal in mind: To retain control of our attention and resources.
With all this knowledge readily available at our fingertips , it’s easy for us to succumb to a multitasking lifestyle. Multitasking has been seen as an asset in this fast-paced world. However, having simultaneous input makes it more difficult to absorb important information that we actually need. This often leads to our inability to remain focused, and hinders our abilities to create and accomplish tasks efficiently. In an era of constant media bombardment, it is increasingly clear that the presence of distractions will never truly go away. Instead, it is our responsibility to try to limit these distractions and stay focused on what we need to get done.
To sustain focus in a world full of distractions, try to consider implementing one or more of these five habits:
1. Turn Off All Smart Phone Notifications
Our digital devices have quickly become one of the greatest sources of distraction in our lives. In fact, studies have shown that the average person checks their smartphone about 150 times every day — just short of every 6 minutes! To limit the distractive nature of your digital device, turn off all nonessential notifications, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, or put your phone on airplane mode. It’s best to keep your phone out of sight to prevent any temptations of checking it, such as a drawer or a separate room.
If you want to cap the number of times you check your phone, using apps such as Forest is a great way to motivate yourself to stay focused. Every time you want to stay focused on a certain task, you can plant a virtual tree on the app and let it grow during the specific time you set to work. If you do not check your phone during that tim , you will end up with a fully grown tree! If you lose motivation and habitually reach for your phone, your tree will die. This app will make you feel inclined to focus on your agenda by giving you a sense of responsibility of the tree’s life. As a result, you will be able to check your apps at appropriate times throughout the day and stay productive!
2. Remove Any Physical & Digital Clutter
Unnecessary clutter is a significant form of visual distraction. Everything in our eyesight subtly pulls our attention little by little. The more we remove, the less visual stress and distraction we experience. Clear your desk, your walls, and your surroundings of any unneeded possessions. Just like how physical clutter distracts our attention, digital clutter does the same as well. Desktop icons, open programs, or other visible notifications can draw our attention away from the task at hand. Notice the digital triggers that grab your attention and try to remove them. Try to limit the tabs open on your browser to three, and delete any you’re not using. You’ll be surprised at your newfound ability to focus!
3. Establish a Productive & Distraction-Free Morning Routine
The first few things we do once we wake up can set the tone for the rest of our day, which is why it’s important to develop a productive morning routine. Creating a relaxing and productive morning routine encourages us to begin the day with confidence and a positive attitude. It better enables us to effectively achieve our daily goals and handle tasks without constantly feeling overwhelmed.
If possible, try to wake up first in your household. Start your day without any digital devices to curb any unnecessary distractions. Instead of scrolling through Instagram as you eat breakfast, try to read a book or just enjoy the silence. By developing a distraction-free morning routine, it will lay the foundation for a more productive day.
4. Reframe Negative Self-Talk & Procrastination
No matter how hard we may work, it’s normal for us to feel stuck sometimes. When we feel frustrated and feel like we are going nowhere with our work, it’s easy for us to have negative self-thoughts. For example, negative self-talk can look like:
- “Maybe my whole idea for this project just isn’t any good…“
- “I can’t believe I keep struggling with something so basic. You would think I would have understood how to do this by now.“
- “This is pointless. Maybe I should just give up and move on to the next task.”
Self-talk isn’t necessarily distracting itself. However, negative self-talk can produce a lot of negative emotion — especially guilt and shame — which can inhibit our ability to stay focused. In fact, negative self-talk and the emotion it produces is one of the biggest causes of procrastination. When we feel bad emotionally, our first instinct is to make the negative feeling go away. This often leads to distracting ourselves in order to numb out our emotions: browsing social media, eating, watching Youtube videos, etc.
A technique called Cognitive Restructuring is a useful way to reframe our negative self-thoughts and emotions. This may sound fancy and complicated, but it’s simply identifying any unrealistic components of our self-talk and rephrasing it to be more constructive. By doing this, we can prevent our emotions from becoming a distraction and motivate ourselves to stay focused. For example:
- “Maybe my whole idea for this project just isn’t any good…” → “Just because I’m having trouble with this idea, it doesn’t necessarily apply to everything about the quality of this project as a whole.“
- “I can’t believe I keep struggling with something so basic. You would think I would have understood how to do this by now.” → “Just because something may seem basic doesn’t mean it isn’t complicated. The fact that I’m still trying means I’m learning something new each time I try. “
- “This is pointless. Maybe I should just give up and move on to the next task.” → “I may be stuck right now, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to be stuck forever. I’ve almost always got out of my slump in the past. If I’m patient, it will eventually happen again this time too.“
5. Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness is an amazing way to limit distractions and enhance your overall productivity. Mindfulness is simply the act of focusing on the present moment without any judgmental thoughts or feelings. It means being free of the what if’s and what maybe’s so we can be completely engaged in the moment without any distraction. Research has shown that mindfulness can improve your focus, attention, and ability to work under stress — all essential assets in our personal and professional lives.
To practice mindfulness, try focusing solely on drinking a hot cup of tea while intaking its scent, warmth, and taste is a practice of mindfulness. When you take a shower, focus on the warmth of the water and the smell of the soap. By taking the time to practice mindfulness every now and then, it will have lasting effects on your ability to remain focused and stay productive.
Our world will always be filled with constant distractions — that’s something we just can’t control. However, what we CAN control is our ability to remain focused and not easily succumb to those distractions. Whether it be muting your digital devices’ notifications or practicing mindfulness, taking small steps to limit your distractions will have significant impacts on the quality of your life.