How to Stay Focused on a Task Right Now
In today's digital world, we're bombarded with ads constantly competing for our attention. It's no wonder, then, that our ability to concentrate and focus on a task becomes increasingly more difficult as we become less patient and more accustomed to jumping from one topic to another.
In our article 16 Ultimate Skills You Need to Boost Your Productivity, we cover the downsides of multitasking. When your attention is scattered, you actually get less done than if you focus on one thing at a time. That means you spend more time than you should to accomplish what you need to!
Have a big deadline looming? Get focused on the task at hand by setting yourself up for focused success. Here are strategies you can start incorporating right now to get in the zone.
1. Close email and turn off message notifications
Email, texts, and chat messages are some of the biggest culprits of stealing attention! Close the applications that alert you of new messages while you're trying to concentrate.
2. Put your phone away - in another room, face down
Better yet, turn off your phone altogether. It will be okay, I promise.
3. Turn off the internet unless you need it for the task
A lot of research projects will require you to use the internet, but explore whether an outline or other part of your task can be done while your computer is in airplane mode. I'll bet you can get more done than you realize when you're alone with just your uninterrupted thoughts.
4. Use a blocker on your device to prevent you from going to certain sites
If online videos or sites tempt you away from focusing on what you need to get done, consider installing a tool that will prevent you from going to those sites.
5. Close the open tabs on your browser or applications
on your device
How often do you open your browser with the intent to search something, only to notice a tab you had open from an earlier session? The constant switching ruins your attention and soaks up your time. Feeling brave? Close all your open tabs, right now. Start fresh. Do this every few hours as the tabs pile up.
6. Turn off the noise and visuals associated with message notifications
By turning off the noise or other visual cue that you should check your messages, you limit your distractions during focused time. Check your messages on your schedule instead of theirs. If it's an emergency that can't wait 50 minutes, they can call you.
7. Use private browsing and ad blockers online
Using a private web browser mode like Incognito mode means the browser doesn’t keep a record of the web pages you visit. That means that when you open your website to search something for your task, you won't be tempted with a bunch of ads for sensational news articles or the shoes you were shopping for earlier.
8. Delete distracting apps
By making it harder to use certain apps, you remove the temptation to check and the ability to be distracted. If deleting them completely from your phone feels too difficult, consider signing out each time so that you create a bit more friction to sign into them. Still too hard? Move the apps off of your homescreen or bundle them in a folder so they're out of sight, out of mind.
9. Set time limits on apps
If there are some smartphone apps that tempt you and take up a lot of your time, set up Screen Time limits on an iPhone or App Timer on Android to pause the app when you've hit your daily limit of usage on those apps.
10. Turn on Do Not Disturb on your device
When you have Do Not Disturb on your device or apps, it will stop sending you sounds and visuals for that period of time. This can be helpful when you're heads-down focused on a task, or if you're trying to create boundaries for checking your work email after hours, for example.
11. Dedicate time to checking your devices
If your thoughts are consumed with "I wonder what X thought," then avoiding checking your messages can actually be more distracting than checking it. Set aside 10 minutes to read and reply to your heart's content, and then put your device back in digital jail. Every hour or so give yourself time to check so you can get your fix, but don't allow yourself to be disrupted on someone else's schedule.
12. Go low tech
Use paper and pen to write out your ideas. Get outside if you can. Create voice memos and talk out your ideas. Find a quiet spot in nature. You may find that you are actually more creative when you're just alone with your thoughts.
13. Clear your space.
Do your physical surroundings stimulate you to think about anything but the task at hand? Try cleaning off your desk, removing sticky notes, moving papers out of sight.
14. Go on camera/get a mirror
Need to hold yourself accountable to NOT goofing off? Get someone to hold you accountable to actually spending time on your project when you sign up for a virtual accountability partner on a site like Focusmate. Or ask a coworker or friend to schedule time where you both focus for 30-60 minutes at a time. Feel funny having someone watch you on video? It sounds silly, but simply working in front of a mirror can hold you accountable to yourself!
15. Reflect on your feelings.
Sometimes getting distracted is a sign of something deeper going on. You may be seeking out other ways to occupy your mind if you're worried about an upcoming event, or looking to put off an uncomfortable conversation. Take a moment and acknowledge those feelings, and consider journaling about them. Then, spend just a few minutes diving in to your work, completely. It may not be as painful as you think once you just get started.
16. Get noise-cancelling headphones
As I write this, a band at a bar across the street is blasting music (and it is not very good music). Using noise-cancelling headphones is a must when you are trying to focus. If silence makes your mind wander, look into some playlists of lowfi beats, white noise, or even a bustling coffee shop.
17. Go somewhere boring.
In the same way that an exciting environment can keep your mind busy for hours as you people-watch, a room with no windows, no artwork, and no signs of life can make your project the most interesting thing in the room. College students often go to the basement of a library when they need to cram or write a last-minute paper. Some people say that their most productive time is when they're on a flight (and there are no TVs) with only the seat in front of you to look at. How might you similarly create the dullest environment possible?
18. Track your procrastination tendencies
Find yourself cleaning or organizing when you have a big looming deadline? People procrastinate in different ways. Start noticing what yours are so that when you find yourself turning to these tactics, ask yourself what it is you're avoiding getting done.
19. Create a parking lot list
One reason you may be distracted is because you have so much you could be doing at any one time, and you keep remembering tasks as you try to complete each one. If overwhelm is causing your mind to wander, write down all that you need to do, and come back to them later. If you're working against a deadline, take a few minutes to block out time for each task that you need to accomplish so that you don't dedicate precious attention to panicking about your time crunch.
20. Do the one thing
If you have a list of projects and to-do items, pick the ONE thing you'll focus on right now. By saying no to other activities, you're saying yes to this top priority. Before you know it, you'll be crossing items off your list!
Finally, practice all of the above!
Like any skill, it takes lots of practice to get good. The goal here is not perfection. It's progress. The more you can incorporate healthy focus activities, the more it will become part of your focused repertoire!
What are the best strategies you use to stay focused? Send them to email@example.com so we can share them in a future post!