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Life is chock-full of distractions.
Social media. TV commercials. Billboards. Noise. Attractive people. Unattractive people.
Plastic bags blowing in the wind.
Let’s be honest… at some point in our lives, we’ve all been in one place and wished we were someplace else.
Or been caught daydreaming when we should have been wrapping up something important.
Our minds move as fast as the world does these days, so finding a way to slow things down and focus on the task at hand can be a challenge for many of us… especially when it comes to work or school.
But in order to be successful in life, it’s imperative to figure out how to not get distracted when things need to get done.
Whether you’re trying to meet a work deadline, or cramming for a final, I will provide 7 actionable strategies and resources you can use to focus.
Before we proceed, if you prefer to watch videos instead of reading articles, here's the Youtube version of this post:
7 Actionable Strategies to Avoid Getting Distracted
1. Create a To-Do List
Ah… the old to-do list.
It’s been around forever, yet it never gets old.
In fact, it’s been an effective tool for so long that it can now be found in an app version. Whether it’s integrated into your smartphone or desktop calendar, or a stand alone app, making lists is a tried and true way to stay on point.
Hell, you can even get fancy with the color coding if you’re feeling bold. And, yes, you can bold things too.
There is something so simplistically gratifying about checking off items from a to-do list. Watching that list get smaller means you are one step closer to completion.
If you’re working on a project for the office, an electronic to-do list can easily be shared… which is particularly handy for assigning tasks to different members of the team.
And if you’re studying for a test you have in one week or more from now, try breaking the to-do list into chapters… making a point to master one or two sections of material each day. This will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
2. Silence Your Social Media Circle
Try and deny it all you want… but you love the internet.
Like most of us, you find it hard to go more than a couple of hours without checking your twitter feed or facebook stalk a colleague.
The internet has allowed our world to advance for the better in so many ways… but it has also stunted our personal growth.
We are no longer talking to one another on the phone. We aren’t writing letters or sending postcards.
Instead, we are snapping pics on our phone and texting virtual greetings from afar.
Family gatherings now consist of people sitting around together, staring at their phones… many times looking at the same news feed.
Guilty as charged.
Disabling alerts and keeping the web browser closed are simple ways of minimizing unwanted distractions when you need to stay focused.
Trust me, whatever it is can wait. And if there is a real emergency, you may actually hear the telephone ring for the first time in a long while. (For some inspiration, check out these quotes about the importance of silence.)
3. Use Headphones
Headphones aren’t just about listening to music anymore.
They are about noise cancellation.
The technology being used today can actually create a listening experience akin to soundproofing walls. You can hear what you want, wherever you want… with little to no outside noise.
If you are trying to listen to a presentation, or participate in a video conference call, headphones can make all the difference when trying to figure out how to not get distracted.
With built in microphones on many headsets, you can be seen and heard without interference. You can even use them to dictate study notes for class.
Or maybe you just want to press play on your favorite tunes or podcast and let it motivate you to stay on point.
Whatever your style, headphones are a great way to keep the unwanted noise out and the productivity within.
4. Set Timers To Meet Certain Goals, Reward Yourself
I’ll admit, timers can be nerve wracking… especially if you’re playing a game or trying to get something done before having to leave the house for an appointment.
But, timers can also be your friend.
Timers can make the goals you want to meet seem more obtainable.
Start by breaking out your to-do list into realistic and manageable time slots. Then set an alarm for yourself and get cracking.
Think of it as a game of “beat the clock”.
And when that time goes off and you’ve completed your task… reward yourself! You’ve earned it.
Whether it’s 15 minutes scrolling through Instagram, or a 30 minute coffee break with a friend, make sure to step away for a few minutes and give your brain a mindless reprieve.
Our mind needs something to look forward to. There needs to be an end in sight for all of our hard work… otherwise we run the risk of feeling trapped in a black hole of number crunching, word crafting and historical facts. Once that happens, it can be very hard to regain focus.
The video below explores how the Pomodoro technique can help you become hyper-focused on important tasks and provides a simple five-step process for implementing this concept.
5. Have Energy Boosting Snacks Readily Available
You may have heard of the term “brain food”.
In fact, many scientists consider fish to be a part of this group… but, if I’m being honest, I highly doubt anybody wants to smell fish coming from the cubicle or study terminal next to them.
The good news is, studies have shown that a variety of other foods can burst energy and brain function. And many of them are odorless!
Staring at a computer or text book for a long period of time can cause eye strain and mental fatigue. That is why having a healthy, energy boosting snack readily available can be a lifesaver.
Since you’re trying to limit distractions, it’s best to keep food close by that require little to no preparation and are mess free, such as:
Many of these can be kept right on your desk without spoiling, so you won’t lose sight of the mission while walking to the fridge for a power up.
6. Take Breaks
If you plan ahead, you should be able to frame out your tasks in a way that allows for breaks.
In fact, it’s not a bad idea to work these breaks into the actual project – treat them as if they are indispensable and critical to your success.
Because at the end of the day… they are.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
The brain needs downtime.
It can’t and shouldn’t be on-call 24/7. That is why we sleep.
And if we’re lucky, we get the right amount of rest every night to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go!
Me, I’ve had insomnia on and off for over a year… it’s the worst!
We all need breaks, both mentally and physically. Incorporating them into your schedule is a great way to keep you from becoming frustrated or stressed out.
In fact, in this case you should embrace the distraction that a mental break offers.
Look at pictures from your last family vacation. Play a tune on your ukulele. Give your mom a quick call just to say “hi”. Spend a few minutes doing your favorite yoga poses.
Unlike a reward you’d give yourself for checking an item off your to-do list, these breaks should be short and lowkey. They should be something you find relaxing enough to help mentally prepare you to get back to work without straying too far off the path.
7. It’s All About Ambiance
Finding the right workspace is crucial when deciding how to not get distracted.
It isn’t just about location, it’s about the ambiance.
Most people associate ambiance with romance.
But it’s really about setting a mood.
In this case, that means creating a space where you can concentrate. A space that features:
Being productive and staying on task will only work if your brain can make the connection between mental and visual cues.
For instance, if your brain spots a park bench that looks perfect for studying…but hears children giggling uncontrollably fifty feet away, it’s not going to be able to focus.
Conversely, if you trade in the fluorescent lighting in your office for a softer desk lamp and play classical music… your brain will be ready to rock.
Ambience here is about setting a tone for your brain.
Some other easy fixes to amp up the ambience include:
Final Thoughts on How to Not Get Distracted
Today, I’ve given you 7 actionable pieces of advice to help you keep your focus… even when it feels impossible.
But whichever method, or methods, you choose… it is important to be in a positive mental state of mind for them to work.
In other words, you need to believe you can get the job done if you’re going to succeed.
One should never underestimate the power of positive thinking. This, in itself, can transform your bad habits into good ones.
It starts by trusting that you can do what you set out to do.
Then envisioning it actually getting done.
Lastly, select the strategy that works for your situation and roll with it. You’ll be glad you did.
Now, if you're looking for more resources to help you build your focus, be sure to check out these articles:
- How to Resist Shiny Object Syndrome and Focus on What’s TRULY Important
- The Power of Focus: 14 Habits to Improve Your Focus
- 11 Ways to Stay Focused on Your Goals & Avoid Distractions
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications, and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization, and product reviews.