Short on time? For the key points on avoiding distractions, stick to the bold text and the conclusion.
Control these environments to get better at avoiding distractions
Learning about avoiding distractions is one, actually doing it is something else. Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as it seems. The world is full of information input. It’s hard to escape. Even when our phone is finally quiet, we still need to control the mind to prevent it from wandering.
However, by following our advice about how to set up your environment to prevent distractions it can become a piece of cake.
Tip 1: Avoiding distractions by maintaining a clean physical environment
First, we’re going to talk about how to set up your physical environment to prevent distractions while working from home.
The most important aspect is to create a workspace. Ideally, you’ll dedicate one room or area to work.
Often, you won’t be able to dedicate it solely to work, however. The dinner table might be the only available spot. And that’s OK if you tidy up after every use – any unnecessary scrap of paper, file or gadget is a possible cause of distraction.
Not only will a clean desk keep your mind from wandering the next day, but tidying up will also help you disconnect from work as your shift ends. Don’t let that pile of work or laptop stare at you longer than it has to!
TV is another main cause of distractions. When you’re supposed the be analysing, writing or studying something, even that stupid foreign soap opera seems to be as good as the next blockbuster, right?
So make sure the TV is turned off. You might even cover it up during the day to avoid that craving of turning it on. Just to watch the news…
Sitting with your back to the TV while others are watching isn’t a good alternative. Trust me, I’ve done it for years. And I can still turn my head at greater angles than the average night owl.
Ideally, you want a completely quiet room. Avoid TV, radio and even chatting family members.
Rise early if this seems to be a problem. Start with this morning routine to get your work done before everyone else starts showering, shouting and sh*tting.
Besides, there’s something magical about the early morning. I always feel like there’s something different in the air before 8 or even 9 a.m.
Do your family members or roommates not respect your focus? It might not always be their fault… Do you let them know when you’re busy? Hang out a ‘Do not disturb’ sign. If you wanted to be even more organised, you might even make and share a complete weekly work/break schedule.
Limit visual input around you and let others know you’re busy.
Tip 2: Avoiding distractions by organising your virtual environment
Your virtual environment might seem a bit harder to control, but it really isn’t.
Push notifications are evil. They distract you, make you switch between tasks and lead to significant productivity loss. Fortunately, you can turn off push notifications both on your phone and computer.
With notifications turned on and an open inbox, email is often the main cause of work distraction. Again, turn off push notifications! No one will get hurt. An email almost implicitly tells you that a reply isn’t needed asap. If it is, they’ll call you.
So to reduce multi-taksing and distractions, limit use of email. Start with checking once per hour and when you get used to it turn it down to once or twice per day.
It’s all about setting expectations and communicating clearly. Let coworkers and clients know you check email from 9 to 10, for example. They shouldn’t expect a reply at any other time.
Social media is the cause of many an hour of unproductivity, but so are traditional news websites. The problem with those is that they don’t feel unproductive, yet they are.
It’s so easy to get distracted by the news. As Herbert A. Simon famously said: ‘A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.’
Ban news websites. Many years ago, I heard Tim Ferriss say that he doesn’t consume news. If something important happens, other people will tell you. Since that day, I haven’t opened a single news app on my phone.
So how can you set up your environment to limit( social) media access?
Remember in school, they used to block access to certain websites like Facebook? You can impose those restrictions on yourself. Extensions like Block Site will restrict access to the websites of your choosing.
You should also consider deleting social media apps or even entire accounts.
Since I deleted Facebook from my phone, I don’t even check in on a daily basis. The only reason I didn’t delete my account, is to access the T3G page. And for birthdays. Because honestly, Facebook’s become the birthday calendar of the 21st century, right?
Ads, finally, are another annoying source of distractions. And even when they don’t distract, you’ll lose time because they will slow down page loading times. Ad-blockers might help but they often have annoying pop-ups of their own. Brave Browser solves both issues.
Turn off push notifications and ads. Don’t let news and social media seduce you. Block them.
Tip 3: Avoiding distractions by controlling your mental environment
Despite your best efforts to avoid external distractions, your mind will wander at some point. Follow the advice below to limit these mental distractions.
Firstly, always have a notepad or post-its within reach. If some thought pops up, just jot it down to clear your mind and stay focused on the task at hand.
Secondly, you can train your brain to be more focused by practising mindfulness.
This practise trains you to focus on the present. Did you know that, contrary to popular belief, mindfulness practice does not lie in preventing your mind from wandering? Mindfulness is about bringing your mind back to the present as soon as it starts wandering. Isn’t that’s exactly what you need when your working?
As preventing mind-wandering altogether is nearly impossible, the ability to bring your mind back to the present quickly, is only second to a good state of flow.
Thirdly, it might help to set up a work playlist — Here’s mine, as an example. Do your own Pavlovian experiment with your brain. If you consistently use the same playlist to get to work, you’ll start associating your favourite music with being productive.
Finally, if you struggle to find motivation and focus, pick a personal mantra. Find an inspirational or motivational quote, write it down or print it out, and hang it on the wall in front of you. Always within sight!
Here’s an example:
‘The future depends on what you do today.’Ghandi
Set up practices to limit brain wandering and facilitate flow.
Set up all your environments to avoid distractions. Carefully organised environments facilitate flow. Keep these three tips in mind to organise your surroundings, digital devices and thoughts.
- Keep your physical environment as organised and clean as possible.
- Turn off as many notifications as possible to keep your flow going.
- Free your mind of distractions with mindfulness practice, and use music and mantras for motivation.
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Sources and further reading/watching about avoiding distractions
- Watch: David Goleman on Focus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTfYv3IEOqM&list=PLTwM19ISWSJnzFJnoJ6aMUI6XUDjb52nC&index=6&t=0s
- Ay Mires, Ericson. LifeHack — https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/10-critical-tips-prevent-distraction-and-sharpen-your-focus.html
- D’Onfro, Jillian. CNBC — https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/03/how-to-curb-you-smartphone-addiction-in-2018.html
- Eyal, Nir. Nir & Far — https://www.nirandfar.com/schedule-maker/
- Glavesky, Steve. HBR — https://hbr.org/2019/12/10-quick-tips-for-avoiding-distractions-at-work
- Olivia, Krauth. Techrepublic — https://www.techrepublic.com/article/11-ways-to-eliminate-distractions-while-working-from-home/
- Zipkin, Nina. Entrepreneur — https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/240176