Reducing distractions is becoming an ever more helpful skill and, like many things, focus is a muscle. We covered this subject a little in a recent webinar, but today we’re going all-in on how to reduce distractions and stay on task.
Got any tips of your own? Drop us a line on Twitter with your go-to distraction reduction techniques, we’d love to hear from you!
In the meantime, if you are ready to boost your productivity and stay focused, this post is for you.
This is a story from TextExpander’s blog writing team. One of our writers was just getting into Wordle, the beloved online word-guessing puzzle. She noticed that she suddenly got significantly better at getting the answers in fewer guesses when she started taking a break partway through the game. It didn’t matter what she did, as long as she wasn’t thinking about Wordle and it was more than 10 minutes in length. She always found Wordle easiest on days where she’d stopped midway through.
You might favor the Pomodoro technique or perhaps take breaks intuitively, but either way, breaks can do wonders for our focus. Research shows that they help us to stay on task and even make us more productive than we are without them. According to this article, the optimal working time is 52 minutes on, followed by a 17 minute break. It might sound counterintuitive, but give it a go and watch your productivity soar.
You have no doubt heard many people weigh in on this subject! Some folks swear by classical, others perfect silence, and some work best with Metallica. We’re of the belief that this is personal to you. Head to your music provider of choice – or YouTube – and trial out some playlists that feel likely. While many people prefer instrumental music, don’t worry if it puts you to sleep. Simply focus on what helps to put you in a Flow state, and don’t sweat the genres.
If you’re stuck and really need to get your head down, forget about finding a perfect playlist and pick one track to play on repeat. For some people, this can ignite a mild trance-like state that can be really beneficial. Otherwise, maybe you love a good soundscape like Rainy Café. The most effective soundtrack will be the one you sincerely enjoy.
We’ve gone into this more in-depth in our “How TextExpander Can Support Workers With ADHD” blog post here. This idea is so well summed up by host Pete Wright in the Introduction to TextExpander webinar we co-hosted for Take Control ADHD. Pete describes how he has used Snippets in TextExpander throughout his daily workflow, to make sure he doesn’t get stuck looking things up in his inbox.
Make sure the information you access daily is readily available. Could you create a Snippet with a template for feedback emails? Have you got Snippets for all the URLs you reach for every day? What about the phone numbers you call often? So often, we get distracted when a little fore-planning is all that’s needed to keep us on the right track. Keep your eyes peeled as we’ll be exploring this more in an upcoming post.
Many of us struggle with phone usage, and our smartphones are often cited as our biggest distraction while we work. We’ll be covering some high-tech solutions in a second, but let’s start with some low- and no-tech options first:
- Put your phone in another room while you work. Just seeing it light up can prompt you to pick it up to check a notification. 10 minutes later, and you find yourself lost in social scrolls or app-hopping loops. Out of sight really can be out of mind.
- Set some rules for yourself. One of our team calls Thursdays “TikTok Night” because it’s the only night of the week he logs into TikTok. He found the app too distracting and it was impossible for him to regulate his use on the fly. Setting a rule has done the trick.
- Turn off all the notifications you possibly can. Instead of absently selecting “Allow” when you download an app, ask yourself if those will be notifications you genuinely need.
- Experiment with switching your phone off altogether for a couple of hours at a time. It might feel stressful initially, but it’s a good ritual to build to help you disconnect while getting work done.
- Use the “Focus” or “Do Not Disturb” functionality on your phone to your advantage. A recent iOS update lets you create “Focus” schedules. These ensure that your notifications will be muted at a given time or when you reach a certain place.
Sometimes, you have to fight technology with technology. Alongside our low-tech solutions above, there are some powerful apps out there that all aim to help you get your head down and get away from your main digital distractions.
- Freedom is one of our go-to app and website blockers. You’ll need a monthly or annual subscription, but it works on computers, smartphones, and tablets to restrict your access to whatever distracts you online. You can create specific blocklists and schedule them to kick in throughout the day, helping you concentrate at work and log off at the end of the day.
- For Mac users, SelfControl is a simple and free website blocker. You can lock yourself out of a blocklist of your own creation for up to 24 hours, great if you have a hard deadline and just want to get your head down. For those of you feeling extra strict, there is a “whitelist” option that only lets you use the sites you add to that list, but SelfControl advises you use it carefully.
- Plant yourself some trees to discourage phone use. If you’re not ready or able to turn off your phone but want to reward yourself for phone-free time, Forest is for you. This minimal and beautiful app lets you decide how long you’d like to leave your phone for, and if you are successful, you’ll grow a beautiful digital tree during your downtime. The goal is to build a forest of focus trees.
- Taking a break has been proven to improve focus, creativity, and productivity. Plan yours in Pomodoro-style or take them intuitively, but make sure to step back frequently throughout the day.
- Trial out whether you enjoy a certain genre of music, a specific playlist, one song on repeat, or a soundscape while you work to boost concentration.
- Optimize your workflow with TextExpander to ensure you have information readily available, instead of getting distracted looking up URLs or emails.
- Disable smartphone notifications, leave it out of sight, turn off your phone when possible, and use “Focus” modes to make your phone less distracting.
- Use apps like SelfControl, Forest, and Freedom if you need some technology to help your concentration out.
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