Chances are you have been distracted at least two to five times during work today, and you might be distracted again before you’re done reading this article.
Distractions don’t only come in the form of social media notifications; whether you’re working from your couch, your bubbling or calm office, or your favorite coffee spot, you can be distracted either by calls, emails, meetings, a colleague asking for help, office noise, and so on. All these distractions reduce your focus and level of productivity.
With the number of network tools and social media apps, our work and personal lives compete for our attention. The design of social tech products is to grab your attention–tweets, ‘likes,’ Twitter pings–all these noncognitive grabs for our attention can lead to a decline in our brains’ function. Hence, it becomes difficult to focus on the things that really matter.
Staying focused is an art. Once you master the art of staying focused on important tasks and projects, you set yourself up for success. If you struggle with distractions and you want to improve your focus, these practical tips can help.
Practice Deep Work.
Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, discusses the effects of the interference of technology in our ability to produce valuable work.
Newport defines deep work as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive abilities to your limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” As a result, deep work produces valuable output.
Newport’s claims are backed by neuroscience. When you intensely focus on a specific task, a tissue called myelin develops in relevant areas of the brain. Myelin facilitates neurons’ increasing speed and efficiency. Basically, you’re going to be smarter. In addition, you develop increasingly rare traits: the ability to ‘master difficult things quickly,’ ‘focus intensely without distraction,’ and ‘perform at an elite level.’
To make deep work a part of your life, make a routine. Set a recurring alarm for deep work at a specific hour of the day, every day. This is best done early in the morning, with fewer distractions. If it’s unnecessary, avoid using the internet during the time for deep work.
Say No To Multi-Tasking
Yes, you can do multiple things at the same time. But you need full concentration and attention if you’re reaching for perfection. You can’t achieve that by multitasking.
Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist, opines that multitasking ruins productivity, causes mistakes, and hinders innovation. Research shows that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40%.
If you split your attention on multiple things at once, your brain struggles to process all the information it gets. To remain focused and produce the best work, say no to multitasking and embrace mono tasking.
Turn Off Notifications
In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport admits that “network tools are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused.”
The internet has proven to be the toughest distraction for many people. These little breaks you take during a task— like checking Instagram stories, replying to DMs, sending emails, and taking calls — affect the quality of your work. Newport calls this “attention residue,” when you look away from your current work to glance at social media or a smartphone notification. That time spent divides your attention for a while after you interact with it, no matter how brief.
Instead of checking social media in between work, work on one task for long periods, utterly free from distractions.
Being focused requires more than keeping your phone across the room; it’s realizing what you ultimately want to achieve and setting goals to get you there. So this week, schedule every minute of the day before the day begins and watch your productivity increase.
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