Distractions are a normal part of life in our busy societies and for those of us in cities, it is even more regular with the close living spaces, constant activity and likely busy jobs that we find ourselves in as well.  Perhaps that isn’t you and instead you enjoy a more peaceful lifestyle with calm surroundings?  Either way, you are bound to get distractions and interruptions when you want (or should) be focused on something else so it’s important to learn to overcome distractions.

Distractions obviously cut away at our productivity even if you don’t feel like they do.  Just a few minutes each hour in your working day of distractions can really add up, easily towards a few hours a week, and many days per year if it was all tallied up.  Overcoming that and gaining back that time will not only make you more productive, it will also minimize the stress from backlog, procrastination and overworking since these are all partly created by interruptions and poor productivity.

Optimize Your Work Areas

Depending on the kind of focused work or pleasure you seek, you will definitely need to adjust your approach but it is important to optimize your work area to HELP you keep your attention instead of losing it.  These items will vary to some degree from person to person and so you can adjust them to suite your style best.  Just ask yourself with each item you consider or keep around you, if it will truly help you focus or will it make you lose your focus?  The following are just a few ideas to help you optimize your work areas.

  • Purposefully using signs or indicators to inform others that you are busy
  • Keep a clean, uncluttered area where nothing will stead away your attention
  • Face your work and keep your back to other people, busy areas or ongoing distractions like a roadway or a busy coffee shop doorway
  • Eliminate your email and internet distractions
  • Turn off your cell phone and let any calls go to voice mail by leaving a greeting stating when you will call them back.

Don’t Work Too Long or Too Tired

Often people only have the ability to focus when it is getting to the 11th hour.  This is caused by procrastination and then the stress of the situation overcomes the person so they are finally able to get down to business and start working.  Unfortunately, for most people, procrastination leaves them with not enough time to think calmly and typically in a rush when time is running out to complete the work.

Working long hours on something without breaks or sleep if not only not that healthy, but it is really unproductive.  You should never try to stay focused on something when you are very tired or if you have already been working for long hours.  The mind cannot concentrate at these times and so you are always better off to either take a short nap or even your normal sleep  to recover some rest and attention or to at least take a break.  Short 10 minute breaks from a task can really help to refocus

You must avoid this to be productive.  You should ALWAYS do your focused work and especially your important work at the best time of day for you.  Learn more about Focus in my Productivity Series here or grab the eBook from my resource pages.

Maximize Your Best Hours Every Day

Each of us has an optimal alertness level in our bodies with our biological clock and it is tied very closely to our sleep patterns.  Our most productive hours are often learned from trial and error but they a good indicator of our highest alert levels.  Take advantage of this for focused work and set aside time during the day that is during your most productive hours.  Using specific time day after day on similar tasks or work also has been shown in brain research to heighten brain activity and strengthen brain mapping when done consistently.  So, using consistent hours of your best productive time will certainly help.  The trick is then to stick to those hours.  It takes discipline to make that happen and my best tip for you to do this is to block out time each day or your calendar when you are unavailable to do other things.  Make this your focused time, no other work, minimal or no distractions and use those hours for your best work.

Make Interrupters Your Focus Once Interrupted

This may seem counter intuitive but believe me, it has a purpose long term.  When you are interrupted by someone there is no way to gain that back, you are already interrupted.  And pretending to multitask or simply half listening is no way of dealing with the distraction.  Instead, what you should do is switch your full attention to the person interrupting you.  If it is a thing or something in your environment, you can likely focus on then eliminating and preventing that from interrupting you again.

The same goes for people interrupting you.  Since the distraction already occurred, your lost your focus, so now is your chance to make sure the person interrupting you knows it and is less likely to do it again. This is not the time to play nice when you are losing your most productive hours.  Often people stop and ask, “Can I bother you for just a minute?”, or “Can I ask you something, it will just take a second?”.  These are the perfect time to be honest and maybe just a bit brutal to send a strong message to them.  You should respond, “Well, you have already distracted me now and this is my block of time to focus on X.  It is important to me to use this time for my planned important work and so no, I don’t have a minute right now, but I will in an hour (or at 3:00).”  You can tell them whenever you want to be available to them or even when they should come back but if you do not state that NO, you will not give them a second of your time, the you will never prevent the distractions from occurring in the future.  Make the distraction obvious by stepping or turning away from your work and face the person.  Never claim you’ve been interrupted by them if you are at the same time, pretending not to be.

This focused response is one that will be heard loud and clear and will give you surprising results.  People will clue in to when you are focused or how you are working when you do not like to be distracted and most people will have enough common sense not to repeat it, so your time (if kept consistently) will become even more and more on focus with less distractions.  Once you are finished from your focused work, ensure you follow up on any commitments to call someone back, or give a chance for someone who did need that minute of your time to now have it.  If you respect them by returned the opportunity, they will respect your focused work time even more.  This is not only for business; it is true with family, friends and colleagues alike.

One final tip is that you may want to even give people some kind of sign or indicator when you are focused and don’t want distractions.  Something as simple as a closed door, or a specific object on your desk, or something like having headphones on, or literally a busy do not disturb sign all could do the trick.  What is important is to be consistent, return contact to any interrupters you sent away via phone, email or in person and make the most of your productive time by eliminating distractions and preventing interruptions.

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