Some days I just seem to get so much done. I’ll fly through eight hours’ worth of work in just five hours.
Then on other days, I feel like I just can’t get anything accomplished. What should take me eight hours ends up taking more than ten.
The crucial factor for me, and I’d imagine for you too, is focus. When I buckle down, concentrate, and ignore distractions, then I can really blast through what I’m doing.
I know people who have transitioned to working from home. When they were away from the distractions of the office, they got their work done in five hours instead of eight. I know when faced with a deadline, I’m often incredibly productive: the pressure forces me to focus.
So focus is important – but how do we get it and keep it?
First Step: Know What Distracts You
Everyone has their own particular distractions to deal with.
Maybe it’s facebook and twitter. Maybe surfing the internet. Playing games? Checking Email? Getting Coffee? Eating? Stopping for too many breaks?
Perhaps it’s daydreaming or just staring at the walls.
For me, it’s often thinking about my next blog post or my next bible lesson that I’m teaching. Those are great things to mull over when I’m driving, showering, or cleaning. But they can be distractions when I need to focus.
Once we know our distractions, how do we eliminate them?
Good: Prevent Distractions from Invading
Do what you need to do to keep distractions from throwing themselves in front of you.
Turn your cell phone off. Shut your door.
Block out a noisy environment by putting on headphones and playing music that helps you focus. I really like noise generators such as www.simplynoise.com. It’s a little jarring at first, but after a while it really gets rid of auditory distractions.
Close down your Email program or turn off auto-check for Email. If an Email pops up, you’re much more likely to dash away on some unimportant Email task.
Close instant message Programs. You can use a software program like Freedom to temporarily turn off your internet connection.
Better: Hide Reminders of Distractions
Once you’ve eliminated distractions that invade your space, get rid of anything in front of you that may lead you down the path of distraction.
If your facebook tab is open and right in front of you, you’re much more likely to waste time clicking around. If twitter is on your favorites bar when you’re trying to do internet research, it’s a constant reminder of some fun, distracting task.
It could be icons on your desktop, empty coffee cups right next to you, or a book that you’re reading that’s right in view. They’re just right there begging you to pay attention to something else for a few moments, to take another “short” break, or to daydream.
There are about a bajillion software applications out there that hide elements of your desktop so that you can focus only on the one task you’re working on.
You can also do the opposite and put task reminders in front of you. For instance, I like to keep a timer right in my peripheral vision. As it ticks away, it reminds me to get back to work.
Best: Noticing and Tracking Distractions
Here’s the absolute best way to prevent distractions. It sounds difficult, but there’s a simple trick to making it work that I guarantee is incredibly effective.
Be aware of your mental state. It’s not really that difficult to get back to work when you realize you’re incredibly distracted. The tough part is being aware – in the moment – that you’re not focused on the task at hand. We just get chasing these rainbows and forget temporarily.
And here’s the trick for being aware of when you’re distracted: track it. Keep a report of your time usage, paying particular attention to when you’re not focused.
There are automatic time-tracking applications that you can get, but those aren’t worthwhile at all. They can only tell you what your computer usage is – not whether you’re concentrating on the task, going to grab some coffee down the hall, or in your office chair just daydreaming.
Plus, here’s the important part: it’s not the report that matters. It’s the change in your behavior that results from you keeping track of your focus. This is key: the very act of recording your actions will alter your behavior.
If you count your calories at every meal, you’re more likely to eat better. If you track you time usage and make note of distractions, you’re more likely to stay focused.
Try this for a few days: Every time you catch yourself indulging in distractions, make a tally mark on a piece of paper. Every time. You’ll be startled at how often you get distracted. You’ll have a count at the end of the day to drive it home, and you can keep up with your distractions over the coming weeks to monitor improvement.
I know this sounds tough, but it’s really not. You don’t have to keep track of every second of every day.
I love to play card games like Spades, and I can easily keep track of cards that have been laid. I don’t actually keep up with every single card. I’ve been playing for so long that I just know what’s important to keep up with and what I don’t have to worry about. I really only keep track of a few cards at the most.
It’s the same for tracking distractions. After a while, you’ll develop a strong sense for when you’re distracted. Those times will stick out to you. They’ll show up on your radar.
You’ll be very aware of the times that you’re distracted, and that knowledge will be absolutely invaluable. From then on, it’s not too terribly difficult to get back in the zone and get back to work.
What do you struggle with?
Does anyone else have tips for how to fight distraction?
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