How to Focus When Distractions Are Everywhere

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I’ve been a big fan of Dr. Ned Hallowell’s for years. So it was a thrill for me to appear on his new podcast, “Distraction.” Our topic? How to focus and manage your attention in today’s distraction-filled workplace.

For tips on how to focus, listen to Maura Nevel Thomas' interview on the 'Distraction' podcast.

For more tips on how to focus, listen to my interview on the ‘Distraction’ podcast.

A psychiatrist, speaker and author, Dr. Hallowell poses this vital question about how technology affects our work: “The entire world is available to us 24/7 at the touch of finger, but at what cost?” I’ve referenced his research many times in my own work on attention management.

During the podcast, I talked about how time management has become outdated and why attention management is the new path to productivity. Time management worked fine back when we had offices with doors to shut out interruptions — and when our computers weren’t connected to a world of distractions via the Internet. Back then, it was relatively easy to plan your day, stick to that plan and even escape from the world when you needed to.

Today, we’re much more likely to work in open offices or remotely. Not only are our computers connected to the internet, we have a full complement of other connected devices. With so much incoming communication and information, any plans we make can be out the window in the first five minutes of the day.

And it’s not just the presence of all your devices and their notifications that affects your work. It’s also the way that constant exposure to those connected devices has changed how we think. We’re conditioned to indulging any thought or curiosity that pops into our brains. So it’s all too easy to open a browser window to, say, search for the weather forecast before we even realize what we’re doing.

In my discussion with Dr. Hallowell, I talked about how to focus when we have to deal with both distracting devices and our minds that crave those distractions.

Control Your Environment

Even if a colleague interrupts you politely, it’s still an interruption that hurts your productivity. If you have a door, close it. But even if you don’t, you can still set some boundaries. Put on headphones or give co-workers other indications that you would prefer not to be disturbed. I love seeing people post creative and funny signs on their chairs, such as “Please do not disturb me unless I’m on fire.”

Control Your Technology

To get into the “flow” state, eliminate tech distractions. Work with your email in offline mode, set your phone to “do not disturb” and switch off app notifications. Remember your technology is for your convenience, not so anyone in the world can interrupt you at any time!

Control Your Own Behavior

This can be the hardest step. Since we’re so used to constant distraction, we can feel antsy when we get quiet. If you have trouble doing focused work for longer periods, start with shorter stretches and work your way up.

For more details on each of these tips about how to focus at work, listen to the full episode of “Distraction.” Subscribe to the podcast to get future episodes. Thanks so much for Dr. Hallowell for having me on! For more reading, check out one of Dr. Hallowell’s many great books. I’d suggest starting with Shine or CrazyBusy

 

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