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How to avoid distractions and stay focused

a woman meditating

How to avoid distractions and stay focused

Let’s start with a question. Why do we do the things that we do? Is it to make ourselves happy, or perhaps to follow what society suggests?

Nir Eyal, a best-selling author on healthy habits, says we do things to avoid feeling uncomfortable. For example if it’s cold outside, you put on a coat, or if you’re feeling hungry, you eat.

He suggests we need to learn how to manage this discomfort in order to avoid distraction.

So, how can we manage pain and discomfort so that we can regain our focus? Here's how to avoid distractions and stay focused.

an aesthetic desk with a laptop

1. Distraction-free zone

Create a clutter-free environment so you’ll be less tempted to stray away from the task at hand. We all work differently, but if you find your mind wonders before you even get started try to remove any potential distractions. Work in a quiet space, close the door, wear noise-cancelling headphones, put your phone on silent or put it on airplane mode. If you are tempted to visit other websites when you should be working, set up website blockers. These are just a few tips to help you focus your mind on your work.

2. Set daily goals

It’s easy to lose sight of what you want to accomplish and feel overwhelmed if you don’t have a plan. Without daily goals, it’s likely you’ll give in to distractions. Create SMART goals to set out your short, medium and long-term goals. It might help to print these out and put them up in your work area so you remain focused on them. On a day-to-day basis identify your objectives for the day and perhaps keep this on a sticky note on your notebook or laptop, so you can see it every time you get up from the desk.

someone doing a rubix cube

3. Brain training

Building up our ability to stay focused is a process. For some of us concentration is something we have to work on, and there are a number of ways to train your brain. If you find you can’t stay focused for longer than 20 minutes, factor in regular short breaks. Slowly increase this time by a few minutes each day, and soon enough you’ll find your ability to concentrate will extend for longer periods of time. Studies have found that 45 minutes is an optimal period of concentration, before you need to take a mental break.

4. Get rid of stress

Stress and anxiety can leave us distracted, frustrated and exhausted. It’s probably unlikely you’ll complete any task to the best of your ability if you attempt to do so under those emotions. So, how can we get rid of the stress that makes us easily distracted? Practice breathing exercises, get a good night’s sleep, regular exercise and eating the right food can all help.

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5. Work smarter

If you’re having trouble focusing, it might be worth asking yourself if your work is challenging enough? Working hard for long hours of the day may make you feel as though you’re being productive and busy, but what is the quality of the work you produced? If you have complex tasks that require research, investigation and thought, it’s unlikely you’ll fall into a mindless state and get distracted. You’ll mentally challenge yourself, keep your brain engaged and develop new skills. Most importantly, you’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment!

6. Allow social time

It's important to allocate time to socialise with friends and family into your daily schedule. At the moment that might be a phone call to a friend or playing board games with those that you live with, whatever it is, communicating with loved ones will undoubtedly lift your mood. Socialising impacts our mental and physical well-being and also brings a sense of comfort. Improving your mood will result in greater productivity and focus when you're working.

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