Being able to focus on your work is key to producing timely and quality output. However, your ability to focus is undermined by the distractions around you. From phone calls, text messages, emails, news alerts, or social media updates; officemates stopping by your desk to have a chat; to pointless and time-consuming meetings, distractions ruin your focus and prevent you from getting any meaningful work done.
While eliminating distractions altogether is impossible, you can manage the way you handle them to reduce their negative consequences on your ability to focus and hence be productive. Here are some of the most effective ways to minimize distractions and maximize your focus and productivity.
1. Schedule your tasks
One of the best strategies to help you minimize distractions and maximize your focus – and thereby your productivity – is to schedule your tasks. A schedule is essentially a timetable of your activities, an outline of what specific tasks you intend on doing during what specific time periods. Whereas a to-do list simply shows you what you need to get done, a schedule also shows you when you need to do them.
A schedule is akin to a budget, though instead of money, it is your time that you are apportioning. It enables you to allot time to each of your tasks, allowing you to ensure that your more meaningful work take priority and are given sufficient time.
Without a schedule, you risk wasting your time mulling over what tasks to work on and when. If faced with numerous options, you might be tempted to simply fill your day with the smaller, easier, and less important tasks in lieu of the more complex, difficult, yet important work. And when you are uncertain of how to proceed with your day, you are more vulnerable to distractions and more likely to just take on whatever tasks come your way, even if those are not important.
As such, scheduling your tasks is a proactive way to manage your time effectively and structure your workload efficiently. It allows you to maximize not only your time, but also your productivity.
A schedule is one of the most effective ways to minimize distractions and keep you focused on your work. Because you have a specific time for a specific task, you can concentrate on that task alone and ignore other tasks for the time being, as well as other distractions. You can induce the flow state – the mental state of operation in which you are fully and deeply immersed, and hence most productive, in the task you are doing – faster and with far less difficulty.
And because you have a limited time to work on a task, you are compelled to commit to that task and ensure you accomplish it before the deadline. You are less susceptible to distractions, and in fact will likely exert every effort to fend off any diversions or interruptions that might prevent you from achieving your goal.
2. Organize your workspace
Whether you work in an office or at home, your work environment exerts considerable influence on your productivity. Many of the distractions that can undermine your focus and prevent you from accomplishing meaningful work come directly from your surroundings. As such, when endeavoring to minimize distractions and maximize productivity, it is important not only to organize and optimize how you work, but also where you work.
For instance, physical clutter in your work environment can impair your ability to concentrate on a given task. The more unnecessary and inconsequential items surrounding you, the more easily you can be distracted. And the more you give in to such distractions, the less productive you become.
Similarly, a cluttered and unorganized workspace can cost you time. The many potential distractions around you compete for your time and attention. The more you pay heed to such diversions, the less time you have for meaningful work. Besides, nothing is more time-consuming than not knowing where a particular device, equipment, or supply item is, and having to rifle and rummage through all the mess just to find it.
A dirty and disorganized work environment can also heighten your stress and frustration. Just imagine wasting time and effort searching for items that should be readily available, when you could have been directing that time and effort to worthwhile tasks.
Accordingly, to help you minimize distractions and facilitate your focus and productivity, your work environment should be clean, well-organized, and comfortable. It should be devoid of useless items, and furnished only with the equipment, devices, tools, and supplies necessary to your work. Files and documents, whether physical or digital, should be properly labeled, sorted, and stored. Other items that you might need should be kept in a convenient yet secure location.
You also need to ensure a comfortable room temperature, ideal lighting, as well as proper ventilation.
If you are working at home, it is ideal to designate an entire room as your office. Or if you have no such luxury, simply find a quiet and separate space where you can set up your work equipment and store important files and documents.
3. Turn off notifications
In this day and age of ultra-connectivity, people feel the need to be connected and available at all times for fear of missing out on what is going on. Every minute, hour, and day, people are bombarded with a continuous stream of notifications ranging from text messages, emails, news alerts, social media updates, or app reminders.
Sometimes, these notifications are beneficial – allowing you to keep abreast of recent happenings or keep in touch with the people around you. Most of the time, however, these very same notifications are really unimportant. They only disrupt your focus and prevent you from fully immersing yourself in important work, thereby diminishing your productivity.
Push notifications are meant to draw your attention. That is why they are accompanied by rings, beeps, chimes, or other loud and obtrusive sounds, and sometimes, lights and vibrations. And if these are not enough to catch your interest, push notifications are also subliminal. They trigger feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and curiosity, to which the only relief is to disengage from your current task and check on or respond to such notifications.
However, once interrupted, it can take your brain a significant amount of time to focus back on your original task. You are also more likely to entertain other distractions before getting back to your first task. So as long as these notifications keep streaming in, and you keeping succumbing to the urge to check and respond to them, you are squandering valuable time and effort which could have otherwise gone to accomplishing meaningful work.
Thus, to minimize distractions and maximize your focus and productivity, you should turn off notifications on your smartphone, desktop, or other devices. You can disable notifications per app, or simply set your phone to silent or airplane mode. Or better yet, since the presence of a phone alone can already undermine your focus, if your phone is in no way related to your task, keep it out of sight and out of mind.
But be sure to exclude important notifications so you do not miss out on significant updates, alerts, and reminders. If you do need your phone for work, you can assign certain ringtones or notification sounds to your important contacts or apps.
Also, if social media is not part of your job, make sure you log off or sign out of your accounts.
Schedule a certain time to check notifications and respond to them. Ideally, you should pick the time when you are less productive than usual, and keep your peak hours for valuable work.
Remember, while technology is a boon, it can also be a bane. After all, technology is just a tool, and like any other tool, its usefulness is determined by how you use it. By being prudent and intentional with the way you use technology, you can minimize distractions and focus on carrying out meaningful and worthwhile tasks.
4. Avoid multitasking
The appeal of multitasking – carrying out two or more tasks simultaneously – is that it supposedly enables you to get more work done in the same amount of time. While this might sound attractive in theory, in reality, however, this is impossible. The human brain simply is not designed to pay full attention to two or more things simultaneously, making it unable to effectively handle more than one task at a time.
Thus, multitasking is nothing but a myth. What people perceive as multitasking is nothing more than rapidly switching between tasks. Multitasking, therefore, does not make you any more productive. In fact, it does quite the opposite.
Abruptly moving from one task to another is especially disruptive to your focus. Because you are constantly being interrupted, you cannot devote your full attention to any one task. Your mind needs to reset every time you move to a different task, making it harder for you to trigger the flow state, during which you are most productive.
And because of divided attention, you are more vulnerable to mistakes and poor judgment. Your critical thinking and creativity, among other cognitive functions, are especially hit. Accordingly, your performance suffers and so does the quality of work.
Task switching also consumes more time than is necessary. As has already been mentioned, once you are interrupted, it takes no small amount of time and effort to focus back on your original task. And once interrupted, you are more susceptible to other distractions, leading you to take on other tasks before getting back to your original one.
Task switching is also very stressful. Trying to take on multiple tasks at once depletes your mental energy faster. You end up feeling more exhausted, yet without any meaningful results to show for it. And seeing only partially finished work instead of completed tasks can make you even more stressed, frustrated, or even depressed.
Consequently, the better approach to help you minimize distractions and maximize your focus and productivity is to singletask, or work on one task at a time. Doing so allows you to devote your undivided attention to the task at hand, making it easier for you to become fully immersed in your work and tune out distractions. And because your attention is undivided, you are less susceptible to mistakes and errors. Not only do you save time, you also deliver high quality results.
5. Break big tasks into smaller ones
It is far more difficult to get started on the larger, more complex tasks. Such tasks can be intimidating to take on, and overwhelming to even consider. Oftentimes, when people are faced with such tasks, they tend to procrastinate. So much so, in fact, that many stop fending off distractions altogether and simply succumb to them, or even actively start seeking out distractions as welcome diversions from the pressure and stress of dealing with difficult and daunting tasks.
Instead of procrastinating on the large and complex tasks, and getting nowhere in turn, the more effective way of handling them is to break them into a series of smaller and specific tasks. Doing so makes such tasks more approachable and manageable. You can better concentrate on a small task than a large one because you have a specific and more attainable goal, a specific time frame to achieve it, and a clear idea on how to proceed. You are also able to minimize distractions, because other tasks and activities no longer appear as attractive and welcoming.
Moreover, by completing one small task after another, you are rewarded with immediate progress. By capitalizing on such small wins, you can keep yourself motivated to work through each small task until you complete your overall goal.
6. Learn to say no
Whether they are conscious of it or not, the people around you can be some of the worst distractions suppressing your ability to focus and be productive. From officemates stopping by your desk to have a chat or pass on tasks you should not be doing, to supervisors and managers calling for meetings you need not be a part of, the people around you can unknowingly take up too much of your time and attention and prevent you from accomplishing meaningful work.
While such distractions cannot be eliminated altogether, you can manage the way you receive and respond to them. Learn to say no to other people if they get in the way of you doing your actual job or achieving valuable tasks. Be less accommodating to other people’s wishes and requests. Decline tasks being passed on to you that you know you should not be doing, or if you are already dealing with a full workload. Turn down meetings that you need not be a part of, especially if you know it will only be a waste of time. If possible, send someone in your stead. If work colleagues drop by to engage in trivial conversations, head them off early. Be polite and diplomatic, but by all means, be firm and deliberate.
To further minimize distractions and prevent you from being unnecessarily disturbed, make sure that you communicate to the people around you that you do not welcome inadvertent interruptions. Such communication need not be only verbal or written – they can also come in the form of signs and signals. Wear headphones while working, even if you are not listening to music. Make your office, desk, or workspace less welcoming – remove extra chairs, close the doors, or rearrange your desk so you are not facing the door. Set up designated hours to receive other people to prevent them from walking in at their convenience.
Such measures might seem antisocial or even hostile, but only if you carry them out without tact and diplomacy. At the end of the day, what matters is that learning to say no to other people will help you minimize distractions, allow you to focus on your own work, and ultimately make you more productive.
7. Take regular breaks
It might seem counterintuitive, but taking regularly scheduled breaks actually helps you focus on your task, work faster and more efficiently, and ultimately be more productive.
To understand how and why, it is important to know that the human brain can only take so much sustained activity before it begins to fatigue and its performance deteriorates. Put simply, when you focus on a single task for too long, your attention eventually starts to fade, causing you to lose concentration on the task at hand. You become more vulnerable to distractions and errors. As your performance plummets, so does the quality of your work.
So, to minimize distractions and maximize your focus and productivity, make sure to take brief, regular breaks between tasks and especially during long tasks, with longer breaks for lunch. Doing so allows you to rest and reinvigorate your mind, and enable you to rebuild your focus, so that you can concentrate harder and immerse yourself deeper once you return to your tasks. You also regain the energy to minimize distractions and keep unwelcome and needless interruptions at bay.
Regularly scheduled breaks facilitate creative thinking, too. They afford your brain a veritable mental break, during which it has an opportunity to better process information just taken in, and interpret it in extraordinary ways that often result to creative breakthroughs to problems you are struggling to solve.
Regularly scheduled breaks also benefit your physical body, affording you much-needed respite from sitting at your desk for too long and straining your eyes staring at a computer screen. Such planned intervals enable you to loosen up, stretch, and allow increased blood flow to your muscles that have been prolongedly held in static position.
In the long term, regular breaks allow you to achieve a healthy work-life balance, helping ease work-related stress and stave off job burnout, improve morale and overall well-being, and enhance overall productivity.
8. Take care of your health
Your physical and mental health directly impact your productivity. To optimize your ability to minimize distractions, maintain peak job performance, and focus on accomplishing meaningful work, you need to look after your well-being.
For instance, getting adequate sleep is crucial to productivity. Chronic sleep deprivation can drastically diminish your cognitive functions. When you continuously lack sleep, you find it increasingly difficult to minimize or fend off distractions and recover from interruptions, making concentrating on a task much more laborious. You suffer from slower reaction time, poor memory, and an irritable mood. Your motor skills are impaired, too, so that you find it harder or take longer time to perform even basic tasks.
Similarly, sufficient hydration is essential to maintaining productive performance and overall mental and physical health. Dehydration damages your mental functions by blunting alertness, concentration, and memory, and increases your susceptibility to distractions, errors, mistakes, and poor judgment.
In like manner, getting proper nutrition ensures that you have the requisite energy to carry out your tasks, as well as sustain mental and physical health. Regular exercise, too, improves your ability to focus at work, minimize distractions, and maximize productivity, while promoting a sound mind and body.
9. Reward yourself
Sometimes, people allow themselves to be distracted because distractions seem more pleasurable and rewarding than the tasks people should be working on. Distractions provide welcome relief from complex and challenging tasks, as well as from mundane and monotonous ones. Distractions provide instant gratification without needing much effort, while most of the difficult yet important tasks provide no such immediate rewards.
To minimize distractions, it is crucial to minimize their appeal by making your tasks more attractive to work on instead. Thus, you need to incentivize yourself to work. You can do this by rewarding yourself for getting a task done. The reward will motivate you to focus on the task at hand and ensure its completion, and provide you with an incentive to fight off the distractions that can keep you from achieving said reward. If you find work rewarding, then you are less inclined to resort to distractions to find gratification. Just make sure your reward is significant enough to compel you to work, but not excessive that it becomes a distraction on its own.