Staying focused in a world full of distractions can be extremely challenging. Here are a few ways to reduce interruptions so you can stay focused.
Put Your phone on silent
Your. Phone. Is. Destroying. Your. Focus.
Let’s just get this one out of the way… Your phone is the ultimate tool, but it’s also the ultimate distraction. If you can, turn off your phone while you work. Can’t afford to turn it off completely? Put it on do not disturb. Put it in a drawer. Give it to a friend. Heck put it on top of the fridge. ANYTHING to keep you from being sucked into scrolling on social platforms, checking notifications, responding to emails, or even working on something that isn’t top priority.
Set up your workspace
Don’t get sucked into working from your bed or the couch. Not only is your posture and spine affected by sitting in unsupportive furniture, but working on your computer or phone in bed may potentially affect your natural sleep signals – aka circadian rhythm- and your melatonin production (1, 5). That’s why many sleep experts suggest keeping your bed a place for sleep and sex alone (7). It’s easy to get distracted when you are in your room or a high traffic area. Instead, set up at a table or desk with the proper chair height so you don’t end up with tech neck (2). Remove distracting items and get all the necessary materials you’ll need before you start to prevent unnecessary disruptions.
Set your goal
We aren’t talking long-term life goals here; we’re talking top priority goals – what is the thing you need to work on right now and how much time will it take? Break that goal up into 30-minute intervals until it is done. Getting hung up on something that won’t let you finish the task? Immediately reschedule it so you can get to your other priorities (3). By setting your immediate goals, you create the roadmap to completion, and THAT is what focus is all about.
Set a timer
Sitting focused for several hours is an unrealistic goal. Our minds move too fast, and our bodies need movement. Instead of trying to force yourself to spend hours at your desk, set shorter incremental windows of time to set all other distractions aside while you get down to business. One study suggests that you should get up from your desk every 30 minutes – and then spend 5 minutes moving your body to prevent degeneration of overall health (4). 30 minutes is doable, right?
Start after you’ve eaten, or bring a snack
Trying to stay focused on an empty stomach is like having a noisy fly in a silent room. You can try to tune it out, but it just seems to get louder and more annoying with each passing moment. If you can, have a meal before you sit down to focus. If that’s not possible, pack a snack and beverage so you don’t have to get up when those hunger pangs start.
Headphones (music or white noise)
Many distractions are noisy in nature. A loud or repetitive noise, a nearby conversation, or a TV being watched in the distance can all call for your attention. To block out the unwanted noisy distractions, put earplugs in or headphones on. If music or a podcast helps your focus, put on a good playlist. If it’s too distracting, try white noise, or simply put your headphones in your ears – even if you don’t have anything on. A buffer between you and the noise can help you to stay on track.
Face a wall
Some of us are people watchers. It’s easy to get distracted by all the beautiful shiny things – which is why some of us need to face a wall or be in a cubby. Windows are wonderful for natural light, but our peripheral vision picks up the slightest movements, which can pull your focus away from what you are working on – even if we don’t notice it (6). If sitting at a window is pulling your attention too much, move to a spot where you won’t have interrupting visual stimuli. By eliminating those visual distractions, you keep your eyes on your work and your mind from wandering.
Pair up with an accountability buddy
Sometimes, we need a friend or loved one to keep us accountable. We may tend to get relaxed about missed goals or deadlines we set for ourselves but letting someone else down stings a little differently. Ask a friend or peer to check in on you to help keep you accountable to your plan. Don’t give them the burden of managing you, but touching base may help to motivate you along the way.
1: Blue light has a dark side – What is blue light? The effect blue light has on your sleep and more. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
2: Association between mobile phone use and neck pain in university students: A cross-sectional study using numeric rating scale for evaluation of neck pain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6527223/
3: How to Stay Focused and Achieve What You Want https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/radical-sabbatical/202001/how-stay-focused-and-achieve-what-you-want
4: Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults
5: Reading from an iPad or from a book in bed: the impact on human sleep. A randomized controlled crossover trial
6: Human Eye Unknowingly Distracted by Irrelevant Objects, Study Finds https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/11/981105065534.htm
7: 7 Things You Should Never Do In Bed (And 2 You Definitely Should)