Distractions are everywhere!

On average, Aussies spend over 5 hours on their phones a day, checking emails, messages, social media, news and videos. We're bombarded by notifications and ads everywhere. Digital marketers estimate that we are frequently shown up to 3000 marketing messages every day.

The great casualty of all this disruption is focus.

With endless distraction, our ability to attain deep focus has massively diminished. It’s serious because without it, we lose any hope of being truly productive.

You might say to yourself, "I struggle to concentrate ... am I destined to a life of distraction?"

If so, you're not alone. Many of us wonder how we can shut out distractions and apply focused energy to a particular task or goal.

You'll be encouraged to know there is a secret to being focused. The world's most successful people have mastered how to do this. And it's not just limited to them. We can all achieve unbreakable levels of focus by building a series of habits.

Let me share with you a few of the habits and tips that I have found to be the most effective.

Tip 1. Write to Clear Your Mind

Write down your goals, the tasks you have to do, the challenges you're facing, and everything floating around in your mind - get it down on paper.

If any of your tasks, challenges, or goals still seem complex and confusing, try to break them down further. Take your goals and try to figure out the steps you need to take to reach it.

What does writing do?

  • Removes the clutter from your mind, freeing up space to think
  • Allows you to articulate your thoughts in greater clarity
  • Changes your perspective, allowing you to make more informed decisions

So I'd encourage you to write, because clarity of mind comes through articulation.

Tip 2. Prioritise

With everything out of your mind and written down on paper, you can begin to consider how to approach everything you have to do.

Often, just by writing, priorities become clear and obvious. You can begin to ask yourself questions like, 

  • “Which tasks are the most important?”
  • “Are any of these urgent?”
  • “Is this task really just a waste of time?

In doing so, you will be able to prioritise your task list and ensure that you tackle the most important tasks first.

With a mind clear from a jumble of thoughts, and a prioritised list in front of you, you’ll be able to tackle the tasks much easier one by one.

Tip 3. Clear Away Distractions

We’ve all been there—trying to work through something, and then ‘ding!’, your phone buzzes. You pick it up, and respond … and then try to bring your thoughts back to what you were doing.

A moment later, a colleague (or family member) sticks their head into the room and asks you a question.

The reality is that distractions like these are the bane of productivity.

Tim Ferriss says,

“What you don’t do, determines what you can do.”

I've found it to be true.

When you proactively close or clear away distractions is perhaps the single most effective decision you can make.

This means things like:

  • Closing your emails, social media & messaging apps
  • Shutting the door or asking colleagues not to bother you for a time
  • Wearing noise-cancelling headset or earbuds
  • Silencing, hiding, or even … turning off your phone (“Ouch!”)

For some of you, I know this is quite painful.

You hate missing out. You're worried we’ll miss an important email. You can feel like a bad friend if you don't respond to messages right away.

Trust me though … it’s worth it.

Shutting out distractions will:

  • Allow you to apply all your concentration and make progress fast
  • Gain real emotional, psychological benefits from the momentum
  • Enable you to enjoy distractions later, guilt-free (see tip 6)

Of all things things mentioned above, perhaps the most difficult one to put in place is to asking those around not to interrupt while you're trying to focus.

Quick Tip: I’ve found that having a regular time each day or week makes it easier for them to work around you, rather than suddenly announcing, “Please don’t disturb me at all today.”

Tip 4. Work in Time Blocks

As mentioned before, if a task is a big one, try break it down into smaller parts. Then, a very useful hack is to tackle it in blocks of time.

Having a confined time dedicated to achieving a task, can make it seem far more achievable, and give you a self-imposed deadline to try and beat.

Our bodies struggle to maintain intense focus for hours at a time, so scheduling some short breaks into your day actually helps you stay at peak efficiency.

Once you’ve cleared your mind, prioritised your tasks, removed distractions and set aside a time to just tackle that task, you can move fast, and build momentum. 

When you have finished your time block, you’ll be probably feel surprised, and just a little satisfied, at how much you’ve achieved.

To learn more about time-blocking, check out this article from To-doist.

Tip 5: Take Action

After all the writing, prioritising, and planning, you really have to … just get down and do it!

Seriously, start the timer on your time-block, get your music on (a solid beat with a noise cancelling headset works great for me) and get stuck into the first task.

Again and again, I'm surprised at how a clear mind can make even the most difficult tasks a lot easier. As momentum builds and you start scratching tasks off your list, you’ll become more energised, more motivated, and well on your way to super hero status.

Tip 6: Schedule Breaks (and rewards!)

Sometimes it can feel like we never need to stop working, especially when you're getting so much done.

However, the brain does need to rest—which makes short, regular breaks a must.

I suggest:

  • Standing up
  • Getting away from your workspace
  • Take a short walk (if possible)
  • Grab a drink of water
  • Talk to someone

These are all great ways to let our minds rest and switch gears a little.

And—perhaps best of all—remember all those distractions you shut away? Now’s a great time to reward yourself with them for focusing so well. Check your social media, follow up on your emails, or have a casual conversation with those around you. 

Our goal in clearing away distractions is not to get rid of them altogether, just to confine them within a timeframe that you’re in control of.

Rewarding yourself after a time block also has the bonus effect of training your brain to focus better for future rewards.

Tip 7. Take Care of Your Health

The more I learn about the incredible human body, the more I see how our daily decisions can actively set us up for success or make life an arduous grind.

Did you know how you breathe affects your mood and performance? That adding some plant life to your work environment can improve your productivity? We all know that after a bad sleep, we often struggle to focus through the day.

So, here's my best five tips for great physical & mental health that will help you focus:

  • Consume the right fuel. Our bodies are like a supercar. What you eat and when you eat can radically boost your performance, or do serious damage to your engine. Personally, I find intermittent fasting does wonders for my focus.
  • Start the day with movement. We're not designed to be sedentary creatures. A short 10 minute workout (plus moving regularly through the day), will help you maintain mobility, build strength, reduce stress, and increase your energy.
  • Get more direct sun in the morning—between 6:30-8:30am. This will boost your energy, help to regulate your circadian rhythm, and moderate many processes within your body—including helping you feel alert during the day.
  • Think, meditate or pray. Our minds need regular breaks from the noise and clutter of life. Set aside some time every day (mornings are great) to slow down, reflect on your life, and get focused for the day.
  • Read for 15+ minutes every day. Learning something new every day not only boosts your mood, and increases your mental capacity, but it makes you a smarter human. In knowing more, you'll also raise your self-confidence.

There's many other things, but these are some the key pillars that I use to maintain a balanced healthy life.

So, just to recap:

  • Tip 1: Write to clear your mind
  • Tip 2: Prioritise your goals & tasks
  • Tip 3: Clear away distractions
  • Tip 4: Work in time blocks
  • Tip 5: Take action
  • Tip 6: Schedule breaks (and rewards)
  • Tip 7: Take care of your health.

There you have seven of the most helpful hacks I use to build and maintain focus and productivity into my life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are your best tips for being focused and productive? Do you use any of these?

Till next time,

Steve Phillips
The Print Master