Distractions have the power to zap our energy, steal time, disrupt our thoughts and make us unproductive. But what is the source of their power? We most often use the verb “distract” in the passive construction, as in “I was distracted,” or “I get distracted easily,” suggesting that distractions are something that happens to us without our volition. The truth is what is a distraction to some may not be a distraction to others. Distractions surface when our brain reacts to a stimulus in our environment and causes us to switch tasks (see my post Try focusing instead of multitasking). This process can work to our advantage in some cases when, for example, we hear a fire alarm and react to it, but it can also make us inefficient. This brings me to the first step to eliminating distractions:
- Admit that you can choose to either react to the distracting stimulus by acting upon it or ignore the stimulus. You are in control. Build awareness of when and why you respond to distractions.
- Plan and prioritize your activities. If you know what you should be doing in a given moment and why, it is easier to stay focused on the task at hand. In his book Finding Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about how to achieve the state of complete engagement, “being in the zone,” or “flow”. It is a very joyful state when you are completely immersed in the experience and don’t want to get distracted. Do you have a favorite hobby that brings about this sensation of effortless achievement? According to the author, the “flow” occurs most often when people set clear goals, receive immediate relevant feedback and when there is a fine match between the skills and the challenges they face. When you consciously choose to put your energy into something that has meaning and value to you, the distractions will disappear.
- Motivate yourself properly. If you’ve read my post What is your motivation direction, you may know what works for you. The truth is we like our distractions because they save us from routine, mundane tasks that we don’t want to do. The solution is either to choose not to perform those tasks or to make them appealing because of the outcomes or benefits you receive once they are completed. When you create your list of goals, write down the reasons why you should accomplish those goals. Visualize the outcomes. The feelings and emotions you experience can be strong motivators.
- Declutter and simplify. Make your physical environment conducive to working without interruptions. Turn off the new email notification, clean out your desk to avoid unnecessary visual stimulation, eliminate the sounds of TV or radio, turn off your cell phone. You decide when you check your email, talk on the phone, watch TV, or chat with your friends or coworkers. Schedule those activities and be disciplined about following your schedule. To learn more about the tools that help to minimize the distractions, read Limiting Distractions from Productivity Goal.
- Meditate. Sometimes we get distracted by our own thoughts. “Oops, I forgot to call my Mom.” “When am I going to get to that report that is due in a week?” “I need to go to the grocery store before it closes.” You know those pesky thoughts that buzz around when you try to concentrate. Meditation can be a great strategy to train your brain to quiet itself. When you start feeling overwhelmed and hurried, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and focus on breathing. Let your thoughts come and go, if they linger, simply redirect your attention back to your breathing pattern. Take it easy. Relax. Make it a habit to meditate regularly.
- Be consistent in your efforts to minimize the impact of distractions, but remember that you can’t avoid them completely. Don’t get frustrated when distractions happen. Instead, budget a bit more time for your main tasks to factor in the possibility that you may have to attend to something else. It is especially important if you tend to underestimate the amount of time you need to get things done.
Additional resources: Managing Internal Distractions by Meg Edwards of the David Allen Company.
Do you have tips to minimize distractions? Please leave a comment or email me.