five quick tips for focus

Distractions and interruptions are everywhere. Search results promise solutions to help you stop all distractions and improve your productivity if you sign up for yet another new app or service. Some can be helpful, but most add clutter to your life. Is it possible to find a way to limit distractions and improve focus without resorting to more apps? Yes. These are my five favourite tips. Are they always going to work? No. I’m human with a strong sense of free will and if I am determined to distract myself, then I will. The list below is five ways I’ve found to limit that tendency.

tip one: Shut off unnecessary noise

I turn off notifications for social media and often log out completely. Why? There are always new updates! It’s easy to think you’ll only look for a few moments to discover to your dismay that it was instead hours.

The same is true for email. How will I know if there’s a message I need to see right now? Honestly, if it’s urgent and I’ve not responded timely, other methods of communication will be used. Even with refined rules for filtering messages it’s far too easy to get caught up in reading all the other messages that come in while waiting for that one email. If I’m anticipating a specific response, I set a schedule for more frequent checking of email (and dealing with the distractions).

I also shut off noise. Personally I find it difficult to write if I’m listening to the TV, music with words, or a classical piece I’ve performed. This is one area where I have found apps useful. I like the white/static noise generators. I’ve been known to put in earbuds but not play anything, they muffle many background noises enough to help me focus.

tip two: Set a schedule

Time blocking is my way to set a schedule when I have no idea what will happen during the day. I group similar tasks together and this also helps me combat sticky attention residue. As each day is more or less my own to plan how I see fit, they provide a basic structure to each day. There’s a vast blankness of opportunity between wake up and fall asleep that can be overwhelming and it’s tempting to fill it with little distractions.

tip three: Actionable language

It’s easy to write tasks lists that include generic items such as “website update”, “project for client”, and “groceries”. By contrast “update WP plugin (security release)”, “complete three repeats of sample knit”, and “pick up carrots and tea” are specific and I no longer need to spend time thinking about what I meant by the note.

tip four: Tidy

This tip took me years accept. I’m not tidy or organized by nature. For years I was convinced that I loved the chaos of my desk and how I could pull together new ideas from what seemed to others as a random mess. Over time I realized that I wasn’t really doing much of anything worthwhile. Projects weren’t completed. While it’s helpful when brainstorming to have ideas, books, and papers everywhere that’s not helpful when it’s time to focus. A quick tidy–stacking books and papers, closing or minimizing non-essential applications windows–while not a long-term organizational solution can provide hours of focus.

tip five: Take a break and move

Sometimes it’s impossible sit still and the above tips haven’t worked. When this happens and I’m unable to get anything done, I move around for a short bit, it doesn’t need to be a run in the woods (though I do enjoy those!). Even a quick walk around the house for a few minutes helps me out, I often get up and brew more tea. Before I settle back into my work, I find a simple small simple task to complete. I’ve found that both the simple activity and the completion of a task helps create momentum and improve focus.