The ability to produce quality work and the ability to quickly master hard things is an important requisite in today’s work environments. The process of using rapidly changing technologies requires that you hone the ability to learn increasingly complex set of relevant skills. To be able to transform these skills into valuable results, your attention needs to be focused without any distractions. But in today’s technologically advanced world, producing quality work at an optimal rate has become a difficult task as we embrace distractions at various levels and this decreases our ability to do high quality and meaningful work.
“You can always find a distraction if you are looking for one.” -Tom KiteTweet
What causes distraction?
A busy day or unexpected events or delays prevent most of us from sticking with our goals. Checking mail and social networking sites, surfing the web, and visual mediums have become major obstacles in cultivating a deep work habits. But distractions need not always be triggered by external sources like gadgets, external demands of people, surroundings, family needs, and social interactions, they too come from internal triggers such as fatigue, mind wandering, stress, rumination or worry.
- Multitasking. Trying to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously, your attention remains divided. It results in attention residue as you switch from one task to another. You are unable to focus on either of the tasks and this damages the overall quality of your work and wastes time.
- Constant need for connectivity. Workplaces with trends like active presence on social media might create more opportunities to collaborate but they do so at the cost of many distractions. They fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate. They tend to pull your attention thereby weaken your willpower to focus on important things.
- Unstructured thinking. Without any built-in goals, rules and challenges you cannot produce work of real value. When you lack planning and cannot figure out what you should be working on and for how long, results in shallow work and short-term gains.
- Cognitive fatigue. The number of tasks and the difficulty of tasks impacts how quickly one gets fatigued as it affects our limited mental focus. When you use your mental muscle for prolonged periods of time, it creates mental clutter where you are prone to more distractions that further delays your decisions, planning and execution.
- Busyness. For many, it’s a struggle being bombarded with distractions, from incoming calls, mails, and messages to chatty coworkers. By sending and answering mails at all hours, scheduling and attending meetings constantly, instant messaging within seconds when someone poses a query —all these behaviours 8make you seem busy but do not always result in high value work.
- Lack of priority. Our dependence on connectivity results in paying attention to irrelevant things. When you lose focus on really important things, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong instead of what’s right giving into frustration, stress and triviality. These shallow concerns take up most of your time thereby keeping you away from doing quality work.
Distractions impede productive pursuit of goals
Distractions are everywhere and they make it easy to engage in them and rationalise our habit of procrastination. Many of us assume that we can transform our working life from distracted to focused overnight and that we can switch between a state of distraction and one of concentration as needed, but once you are wired for distraction, you begin to crave it and it becomes difficult to bring your focus back with one time decision to think or work deeper. Your brain becomes accustomed to on-demand distraction and is hard to change the habit even when you want to.
Similarly, if you are working for yourself, you will find that it can be even more difficult to avoid distractions since you don’t have anyone hovering over you to report to. You can have a properly set schedule and waste all that time spent preparing it by getting easily distracted.You will struggle to achieve higher levels of concentration unless you disconnect yourself from these distractions.
How to disconnect from your distractions
Encountering distractions is inevitable. When your mind is becoming distracted, it is important to redirect it to the present to be able to make your deep work a priority to meet your personal and professional goals. By integrating the habit of scheduling your work and supporting it with routines and rituals, you will be able to achieve your required focus. Here are some ways to disconnect yourself from distractions.
Schedule your ‘work’
Planning your schedule is one way of reducing distractions. Scheduling eliminates shallow obligations by having a highly valued professional or personal goal. By dedicating some clearly defined stretches of time to vital tasks, you can leave the time for not so important ones. By developing routines, by making sure little bit gets done on a regular basis, you can fit deep work habit whenever you can into your schedule. To make most of your time, build rituals of the same level of strictness.
Make a ‘not-to-do ‘ list
If you are feeling overwhelmed with the number of things on your to-do list, narrow them down by committing to accomplishing only the three or four things in your list. Then make a ‘not-to-do’ list for that day. This will help you identify potential distractions and give you ideas on how to avoid them. This list can include tasks that don’t require immediate attention, are not aligned with your goals right now, and/or that can be delegated.
Focus on your ‘priorities’
Your work should be aimed at small number of important goals. Simplifying and focusing on priorities will improve your intensity to get valuable results. Identify a small number of outcomes to pursue with your quality work hours. Spending more time doing quality work may not generate lot of enthusiasm. Instead have a specific goal that would return tangible benefits. Prioritise your tasks and goals according to the urgency of completion, level of difficulty and the time needed to accomplish each one.
Work on the ‘lead measures’
‘Lag measures’ describe the thing you are trying to improve and ‘lead measures’ are the hours spent working on your important goals. Lag measures cannot immediately generate a noticeable change in your ability to reach your goal. You cannot change your behaviour as the performance that driven them is already in the past. Lead measures on the other hand, turn your attention to improving the behaviours you directly control in the near future and will have a positive impact on your long-term goals.
Keep a scoreboard
By recording and tracking the hours spent doing quality work or your lead measure, creates a sense of competence and drives you to focus on these measures even when there are distractions. Keeping track of quality work hours with simple tally of tick marks maximises your motivation. Your scoreboard can help you understand what leads to bad days of work and most important, to figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead. This way, you can disconnect with your distractions to keep a compelling scoreboard and can create a pattern of accountability.
Set expected time of completion for your important tasks on your priority list. You can motivate yourself by setting a countdown and can work with greater intensity and with no distractions. Distractions can do more harm if you are tired. Use Pomodoro technique where you can break work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. By providing interval training for the attention centres of brain, you can minimise the number of times you give into distractions.
Apply the ‘law of vital few’
Another distraction is to get sidetracked and lose sight of your goals. Though many different activities can contribute to you achieving your goals, according to the ‘law of vital few’, only twenty percent of theses activities provide the bulk of the benefit. By listing some of your distinct and beneficial activities for each of your life goals, the top two or three such activities only make most of the difference in whether or not you succeed. Try to list only those which are specific to your goal. Keep reminders of what you want to achieve for the week, month and year to stay accountable.
Structure your ‘leisure time’
Don’t use networking tools for entertainment when it comes relaxation as they weaken your mind’s general ability to resist distraction thereby making it difficult for you to concentrate later when you really want to. Structure your leisure time by filling your free time with something of more quality than instead of allowing your mind to be lost in unstructured web surfing and other distractions. If you give your mind a quality alternative, you’ll end the day more fulfilled and can begin the next day more relaxed.
Be ‘strategic’ with your time
If you really need uninterrupted time to focus and finish the job at hand, disconnecting digitally helps you get your best work and thinking done. ‘Time block’ your work to stay with a task distraction free. Once you hit smaller milestones, you will be motivated to go longer without getting distracted. Limiting the time you have to complete a task can be another easy way to eliminate distractions. For tasks that require your utmost concentration, schedule them during those hours where there are fewer distractions.
Juggling two or more tasks all at the same time may seem as if you are efficient. However, divided attention expends more of your resources like energy, time, creativity, and focus. Since our brain is hardwired to focus on only one thing at a time, you are always better off scheduling one task at a time. Focusing on a single task enables you not only finish a single task more efficiently but to also perform the task to your full potential.
Use ‘If-then’ technique
Using If-Then plans, you can shift your focus onto ‘hows’ and the ‘what’s’ to avoid distractions. Identify the single action (the “Then”) that you will focus on when you identify the specific cue for the distraction (the “If”). So, if your goal is to manage a distraction, you need to know much more about the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ you need to do. This helps you resist the temptations that you are most likely to give into and make it harder for such moments to distract you.
How effective are you in managing your distractions? How distractions are affecting what you currently focusing on?
What distracts you the most? Is it your daily busyness, habits, digital distractions, stress or multitasking?
What do you find difficult about achieving your goals – lack of priorities or giving into distractions?
How often do you stretch your important goals beyond schedule due to distractions?
Are you time pressured often because of distractions?
When you are distracted, do you try to regain your focus or procrastinate on your goals?
Are your routines interesting enough to keep yourself going back to them?
Staying focused and avoiding distractions can be tough. However, distraction remains a destroyer of deep and meaningful work. Focus and concentration are vital towards taking control of your time and attention from the many distractions that attempt to steal your productivity. Use and apply the above ways to disconnect from distractions to regain your focus, and to get more quality work done. Making them part of your routine work habits, you can manage distractions more effectively than you used to.