For this post I sent out a questionnaire to a number of people asking about their single best tip for avoiding distractions. Most everything suggested falls into two categories:
- Controlling your mind
- Controlling your environment
Obviously, controlling your environment is just another way of controlling your mind. What I liked best about reading all these suggestions is the number of different ways people have for creating a distraction-free work experience. Read on. I’m sure you’ll find a number of tips that will help you be more productive.
Make it difficult to be distracted. Turn off notification sounds and indicators on email, social media, etc. If your corporate culture allows it, put on earphones even if you aren’t listening to anything through them. Close programs and completely power down devices that tend to tempt you away from your work.
~ Erin Doland from Unclutterer.com
Personally, I find music is distracting when I’m trying to think, but unless you have some really big headphones, they probably won’t block out much sound on their own. I find that the sound of the ocean or rain is pleasant and not distracting for me. It helps cover up some of the noises that will take my mind off the work at hand.
Keep only one application open at a time on your computer! If you’re doing email, then just do email. If working in Excel or Word or on something else, turn email off & shut down social media windows.
~ Monica Ricci from Catalyst Organizing, LLC
This is an interesting idea. I just counted and I have 23 applications open right now! I think I’m pretty good at staying focused, but I know I’ve caught myself jumping to a different task when I hit the slightest resistance. Closing everything else is an idea I want to try because it forces me to decide exactly what I’m going to work on for the next period of time. Plus, most computers will run faster with only a few programs open.
Leaving my apartment and my cell phone behind.
~ Caroline Wright
We tend to take it for granted that we need to be connected all the time. It is amazing what you can get done by shutting off your phone, instant messaging, and spending a few hours in which no one can interrupt you.
Most people will be more efficient checking their email once every hour or two and some people can get by with checking it once each day. I think the biggest thing you have to watch for is making sure you aren’t checking your email as a way of procrastinating on your current task.
Don’t fill out distracting surveys. Ha, just kidding. I try to pick one thing and only focus on it until completed. Then, move on to the next thing. It’s very distracting to switch contexts repeatedly
~ Peter Krimmel
This is great advice–even though I’m glad Peter went ahead and took the time to answer my questions. :) It is easy to get caught up in trying to do everything that isn’t important and miss out on the things that are really valuable. His advice to pick one thing and focus on it is right on. We are not good at multi-tasking.
It is interesting how the Internet can be both our most powerful tool and greatest distraction.
Proactively think through my priorities for each day and make sure I have set aside time to get each task done. I will block time on my calendar and make sure I am in a quiet place and jump in and get it done!
~ Beth Devin
It is hard for me to start a task when I think I’ll get interrupted. Beth’s method helps solve or at least lessen this problem. It also forces you to be realistic about what you can get done in a day by forcing you to think about how long each task will take.
Some of my most productive periods have been when the Internet is down.
Work off of a list and don’t multitask and have multiple visual or audio inputs going at the same time. Focus on getting the task done and then move on to the next task.
~ Jessica Insalaco
Another vote against multi-tasking. Lists are great because they let you see everything you need to do in one place with clarity. Just watch out. Some people make lists as a way of procrastinating.
Start as early in the day as possible, before the rest of the world is up.
Not only does this help eliminate distractions, but mornings are usually your peak mental state when you will be most efficient. Of course the trick is to go to bed early enough the night before.
Turn off your smartphone
~ Chris Haynor
And don’t forget AIM, Google Talk, Skype, and email notifications while you are at it.
Notifications have their place, but it isn’t when you are trying to focus on getting work done.
Care about what you’re doing. Distraction is a symptom of frustration or a lack of engagement, so I’ve found the best way to avoid distraction is to not do things‚Äîto the extent possible, of course‚Äîthat frustrate me or put me off somehow.
~ Brett Kelly
Brett makes a good point. Sometimes being easily distracted is a sign that we are doing things we don’t really care about.
It may seem silly, but writing yourself a note displaying tasks on which you want to focus is a great way to avoid distractions.