Learning how to avoid distractions is a difficult goal to achieve. Most days, you sit at your desk, eager to get back to work. “All right, let's do this,” you say to yourself. You navigate to Word or Google Drive and create a new document. You know what needs to be done, but what happens next?
You scribble a few words but can't seem to concentrate. Then you think, “Perhaps I should wake myself up with something fun.” You go on Facebook for 20 minutes. Then there's an hour of mindlessly watching a few YouTube videos. Lunchtime arrives before you know it, and half the day is gone.
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If this sounds familiar, you should know that it doesn't have to be this way. All you have to do is focus on finishing this article to learn how to avoid distractions.
Before we get into the tips, it's important to note that avoiding distraction is difficult. It's difficult to stay focused when you have to work for hours at a time, but some people can. Why them and not you is the question.
Furthermore, you were most likely never taught how to concentrate. When you were in school, your teacher was probably annoyed when your mind wandered and you found yourself staring out the window, but they didn't fix it by teaching you how to focus; they simply expected it to come naturally. Unfortunately, that is simply not possible, especially in today's distracting world.
Finally, because everyone is left to their own devices, it is up to you to figure out how to master your focus. That is what these suggestions are for: to help you stay focused and on track with your goals.
1. Maintain Your Vision and Goals
As you learn how to avoid distraction, it's critical to start with a solid foundation for your focus. This entails determining why you need to focus in the first place. Do you need to prepare for a big presentation at work next week? Do you want to learn to play the guitar and need to focus for an hour each day to practice?
Determining your ultimate goal will assist you in devoting yourself to learning how to focus. Knowing why we need to stay focused can help us push through the difficult and time-consuming parts of achieving our goals. That is when our ability to focus is put to the ultimate test, and when it is most needed.
2. Make Your Day Less Chaotic
How effective do you think your focus ability will be if you have 20 tasks to complete every day?
You can't expect to do those things with finesse if you're too scattered to concentrate. If you want to learn how to avoid distractions, you must first simplify things.
Concentrate on only doing 2-3 important tasks per day, no more. It's all you need to get started on your path to success. Slower is preferable to giving up too soon because you took on too much too soon. Finally, this is better for your mental health because you will constantly see yourself progressing without becoming easily distracted.
3. Complete the tasks as soon as possible
To ensure that you complete those two to three tasks, you must complete them early in order to remain focused on the task without feeling overwhelmed. This means that you're already planning how to do them as soon as you wake up.
It's difficult, but putting them off until later only invites distraction. Distractions will inevitably arrive in the form of unexpected emails, social media, a child who requires your attention, or coworkers who require assistance with their projects. All of this can sap your willpower and make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
4. Concentrate on the smallest aspect of your work at a time
A simple way to lose focus is to regard a goal as the massive accomplishment that it is. Most goals will take at least a few weeks to months to complete, and knowing this can make it seem like it will take too long.
This will result in one of two outcomes:
- You become disheartened because the goal is too lofty
- You daydream about what it will be like to achieve the goal
- Either is bad for your focus and is always a risk when focusing on the big picture or using visualization
Instead, concentrate on doing the bare minimum of work.
For example, you know you'll need about 1000 words to write an article. If that seems like a lot, set a goal of writing 200 words per day for the next five days (or adjust this according to the given deadline). Breaking it down like this will make the task feel more manageable and will teach you how to avoid distractions along the way.
5. Visualize Yourself at Work
I mentioned briefly in tip 4 that visualization techniques can sometimes hurt you more than they help you. However, there is a proper way to use visualization, and that is to visualize yourself working.
Champion runners use this technique effectively, usually working backwards. They first imagine themselves winning, and then they act out the entire process backwards, feeling and visualizing each step all the way back to the beginning.
Imagine yourself doing a small part of the task at hand. This is a quicker and more relevant way to apply this.
For example, what should you do if you need to practice the guitar but it's all the way across the room (assume maximum laziness for the sake of this example)?
First, imagine yourself standing up (really, think of the sensation of getting up, and then do it). If you truly imagined, visualized, and felt the act of standing up, it will be simple to act on that feeling.
Then, with each step, repeat the visualization process until you have that guitar in your hands and are playing it. The process of concentrating so intently on each step distracts you from how much you don't want to do something, and the visualizations prepare your body for each step that must be completed.
All you have to do is apply this process to whatever you need to concentrate on.
6. Keep Your Internal Distractions Under Control
Internal distractions are one of those issues that you can't really avoid. To learn how to not be distracted, you must find ways to prepare your mind for work and simple ways to keep it from wandering to non-essential thoughts.
Having a dedicated work station is a good way to prepare your mind for work. If you always work in the same location, your mind will associate that location with work-related thoughts.
Make sure to leave your workstation when you take breaks. That way, you'll know when you're “allowed” to let your thoughts run wild.
Deadlines are also useful in this situation. Because you have a looming deadline, this method helps keep your mind from wandering.
If you can strengthen your focus muscle, you will be able to control your internal distractions at all times. More on developing that muscle can be found in Lifehack's Fast-Track Class: Focus Like a Top Achiever.
Silencing those unwanted thoughts, on the other hand, is all about getting some traction going. Instead of focusing on what is going on internally, concentrate on getting something done. When you do this, you will notice that all of your thoughts are directed toward completing your task.
7. Eliminate External Distractions
This tip is a little easier to implement because it simply requires you to physically distance yourself from the things that are causing distractions.
Turn off the television or work in another room if it is bothering you. If your children are yelling and playing, try getting up and going to work before they do. If you find yourself constantly checking your phone, put it on silent while you work.
Although it is usually obvious what you should do, you should not disregard this piece of advice.
8. Ignore What You Don't Know
This is a tip I don't see very often. If you run into a snag in your work, come back to it later as you learn how to avoid distractions. Concentrate on what you can do to continue working “mindlessly” at all costs. All of this means that you should prioritize the easy parts first.
You can eventually return to the more difficult parts, and hopefully by then it will have come to you or you will have built up enough momentum that working on it will not break your focus.
9. Focus Practice Can Help You Improve Your Discipline
You can improve your overall discipline by doing a few focus exercises.
The first is meditation, which is essentially the definition of concentration in practice. It's an excellent method for improving focus, de-stressing, and gaining control over your emotions.
The Pomodoro method, which asks you to set a timer to track the time you spend on a task, is the second exercise. These are essentially “focus sprints,” with each one followed by a substantial break. You'll get better at them over time, just like you would with real sprints. Each interval improves your ability to stay focused when it matters most, assisting you in learning how to avoid distraction in the long run.
10. Keep Your Momentum Going
Momentum acts as a discipline lubricant, making it easier to stick to goals. That is why I believe it is critical that we never take true breaks from our goals; otherwise, we will lose momentum and have to rely on discipline to get back on track (not an easy thing to do).
This means that we must do something significant every day to advance our goals (yes, even weekends and holidays). And by “significant,” I don't necessarily mean a large task, but rather any task that moves us closer to our objectives.
For example, if you want to be a freelance writer, write one pitch over the weekend. If you want to get in shape, go for a 5-minute walk, even on Christmas Day.
It is certainly easier said than done to learn how to avoid distractions. Distractions exist in every aspect of our lives these days, even if they are as simple as a short beep generated by a notification. These types of distractions may appear minor, but anything that takes your attention away from your task is a distraction.
Don't get sidetracked. Instead, employ some of the strategies outlined above to reclaim your focus and overcome distractions. Your productivity will appreciate it.
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