You sit down at your desk to get some work done, and almost immediately, your brain starts rattling off a list of to-do’s – sound familiar? Almost everyone struggles with focus these days, which is why tactics to remove distractions and stay focused are so important.
In this article, you’ll learn the best tricks and techniques for shutting out the world and staying on task so you can optimize productivity and get your work done efficiently.
8 Tactics To Help You Stay Focused
#1 Stop Trying To Multitask
Multitasking always feels like the most efficient way to get things done – but it’s actually one of the worst things you can do when you want to stay focused. Put simply: multitasking is the enemy of productivity.
When you multitask, you’re training your brain to try to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Unfortunately, our brains just aren’t designed to do this. Instead, you end up missing out on important information and become addicted to multiple inputs as a way to try to work. This can make paying attention to one task even harder as your mind will have trouble filtering out other distractions.https://www.pnas.org/content/106/37/15583
If you’re a chronic multitasker, try doing one thing at a time, very intentionally, for a few days. See how it works for you. At first, it may actually be more challenging to pay attention to only one thing, but over time your brain will settle down, and your ability to focus will greatly improve.
#2 Use Visualization
Athletes have been using the power of visualization for decades, and more recently, research is beginning to back up this technique for goal setting due to its impact on your brain.
When you visualize what you want to achieve, your brain becomes primed to make it happen. It’s almost like giving your brain a preview of what’s to come so that when you set out to achieve your goal, your mind already has a framework for how to behave.https://www.jstor.org/stable/41228586
You can use visualization to enhance your focus by taking a few minutes either before you sit down to do work or take a break when you’re finding it hard to focus on the task at hand.
Simply imagine yourself doing whatever task it is that you want to complete. If it’s writing a paper, for example, imagine yourself sitting at your desk completely immersed in your writing process, exactly where you typically sit, wearing just what you’re wearing. Hold the vision strong, and bring in the emotions that you’re feeling – excited to be getting your work done, relieved to feel so focused, happy to be in the flow state.
Visualization is a tactic that can work in the moment, but it’s even better when done consistently over time. If focus is a consistent issue for you, take a few moments when you wake up in the morning or before bed at night to envision yourself working, completely focused and flowing.
#3 Turn Off Notifications
Some of the most common distractions come from that little ping you get on your phone or computer when someone wants to connect with you. Whether it’s an email, a text message, a Slack message, or a notification from one of your various apps – they’re pulling you away from your work.
Eliminate these distractions by putting your phone on silent (and, if you can, in another room) and closing out your email and messaging apps on your computer. Make your workspace sacred – nothing allowed in unless you intentionally open an app or your email.
#4 Set A Realistic Time Goal
If you sit down with the goal of working for three hours straight, your mind will immediately start freaking out. That is a long time to focus on one single thing. The paradox is if you set a time goal for shorter sprints of work, you’ll often find that you get yourself into a flow and can work right through those scheduled breaks.
Finding your time-goal sweet spot is going to be unique to you. You want to make sure it’s short enough that your brain doesn’t reject it right out but long enough that you can settle into it and actually achieve a bit of flow. A great place to start is 45 minutes to an hour, and see where you go from there.
#5 Make A Dedicated Workspace
If you tend to hop around a lot working in different areas, it can be hard for your brain to get the message, “this is where we work.” This is especially true if you work from home.
When you make a dedicated workspace, your mind will associate that area with work, not watching TV, eating, scrolling on social media, or any other activity that you may partake in while enjoying your non-work spaces.
To further drive home the intention, when you take breaks from work, get up and move away from your workspace.
When choosing your dedicated workspace, make sure it’s as conducive to work as possible. For example, if you like to work in the kitchen but you know that other family members or roommates tend to come in and out of the kitchen frequently, maybe try another space.
You can also enhance your workspace with small visual cues that keep you in the energy of work. For example, if you’re studying a new language, try putting a picture of that country somewhere in your workspace or any other cue that will remind you of your end goal.
#6 One Goal At A Time
One of the most common reasons people cannot focus is because they get overwhelmed with the work they have to do. Instead of looking at what’s on their plate and how they can tackle it realistically – they begin by picturing every single step that needs to be taken to get to the end goal.
This will always work against you. Instead, take it one step at a time. What is the one thing you can do right now to chip away at your end goal? When you sit down to work, set your intention to get one simple thing done. Make sure it’s something that you can complete within the given timeframe. This could be as simple as writing an outline for a paper or making a list of points you would like to include in a presentation.
#7 Keep A Pad Of Paper and Pen At Your Desk
This may sound old school, but keeping a physical pen and paper at your desk helps you avoid the temptation to take notes on your phone or venture into areas of your computer that should remain dormant during work time.
Inevitably, while you work, your mind will start to distract you with a list of other to-do’s. You can assuage your brain’s need for attention by making notes of what pops in (when it’s necessary). For instance, you may sit down to start working, and then all of a sudden, the thought comes in: “Oh no, it’s my niece’s birthday next week, and I haven’t gotten her a present!”
Your instinct will be to start googling “presents for a seven-year-old girl,” and if you follow this instinct, you’ll be off on a different task for 20 to 30 minutes. Is your niece’s birthday important? Yes. Do you need to stop what you’re doing to get her a birthday present this instant? No.
The pad of paper and pen will give you a space to write down “get a birthday present for Lily,” so you can move on with your work. No excuses.
The same goes for doctor’s appointments, grocery lists, chores, errands, and so on.
#8 Use Headphones
One of the easiest ways to cancel out external distractions is to put headphones on. Some people prefer to listen to white noise, while others do well with binaural beats. Listening to your favorite music is not the best idea as you can easily get distracted by the songs and find yourself singing or humming along.
The goal is to fill your ears with steady vibrations that will keep you on track, not get you too excited or pull you down memory lane.
You can even use headphones while turning on no sound at all. If you work in an office or around other people, headphones are an excellent cue that you’re busy and not available to chat.
#9 Try Nootropics
Nootropics are brain supplements and drugs that are designed to optimize your work performance and cognitive function. Depending on the specific product, they can help with everything from creativity to focus to memory skills.
Maintaining focus in a world that’s been designed to pull your attention can feel like an impossible feat. However, when you set up your environment and give your brain the tools it needs to calm down, concentration and productivity can become a lot more attainable.
Using some or all of the above techniques will help to set you up for success, and over time you’ll notice your focus muscle strengthen.
To take your focus and workflow to the next level, try nootropic supplements that can target your unique needs and help you hit that optimal flow state.