Ever start to do something and—Sure, I can get those to you this afternoon. (Sorry, I got distracted. Where was I?) Oh yeah, do you ever start to do something and get distracted? Well, you’re not—sorry, that’s my phone pinging. As I was saying, you’re not alone in that experience.
We’ve all been there. Even with the best intentions, there are so many internal and external distractions just waiting to get us off task. From social media to emails to our own thoughts and daydreams, distractions seem to be everywhere.
Take a guess of how many times you’re distracted during the day. Then, multiply that number by 25. Yes, 25—that’s how many minutes of focus you’re losing. According to a study on digital distraction, it takes around 25 minutes to return to your original task after an interruption. Distractions derail your mental progress and hurt productivity. This means that the 60 seconds you took to check social media “really quick” isn’t a minute wasted, it’s 26 minutes.
In an increasingly fast-paced, multitasking world, distractions can seem impossible to avoid. However, you can learn to manage and limit distractions to maximize your productivity.
Train Your Brain
Gradually working on your concentration helps you focus for longer periods. Train your brain the same way you would any other part of your body, by strengthening it over time. Set a window of time in which you’ll be fully focused on a particular task, followed by a “mini-break” for distractions. For example, work for 45 minutes and take a 15-minute break. If you feel yourself losing the battle to distraction, give yourself a more manageable goal. Try working for 25 minutes and following it with a 5-minute break.
After the break is over, it’s time to get back to work again. You can use the timer method until balancing work and distraction feels natural to you. And remember—don’t abuse the privilege of the break. Give yourself enough time for a mental break, but the majority of your time should be dedicated to focused work. Take a quick walk. Stand up. Drink a glass of water, or check your email, and then get back to the distraction-free zone and back to work.
Create a Distraction-Free Environment
Create habits that put you in distraction-free mode. Turn off the email alert, silence all the notifications on your phone, and you will immediately reduce the possibility of distraction. Make meetings no-phone and no-email zones. This will keep everyone focused on the topic, making it easier to solve the problem, clarify the issue, or make a decision.
Eliminating distractions can be easier said than done, especially since many jobs are computer-based. If you can’t work without the internet, try using a website blocker app to avoid the temptation of switching to other pages.
Shorten Your Time Frame
Create artificial deadlines to keep yourself focused. When you know you only have a limited amount of time to get something done, it’s easier to avoid distractions. Make big projects smaller by breaking them down into smaller tasks, each with its own “deadline.” Not only will this help with concentration, but it also will provide a sense of progress and accomplishment.
Watch for Wandering
According to a Harvard study, people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they should be doing. It’s sitting in traffic thinking about the email you forgot to send yesterday. It’s waiting for a conference call to start and wondering what to make for dinner.
While we’re quick to blame distractions on external factors, the human mind is wired for wandering. We spend so much time thinking about what happened in the past, what might happen in the future, and everything in between. You can’t completely eliminate mind wandering, but you can manage it. Pay attention to your thoughts to notice when your mind wanders. Then, put the brakes on the distraction and redirect your thoughts to the task at hand.