How to Harness Focus in a World of Distractions
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How to Harness Focus in a World of Distractions

How do you stay focused at work? The answer might surprise you. If you’re looking to get ahead in your career or simply improve your productivity, focusing on one task at a time can be challenging. In today’s busy world, it seems easier to multitask instead of focus on one thing at a time. You don’t necessarily need to eliminate distractions from your life, but you should try to minimize them. Here are some ways to harness focus in a world of distraction.


Why do we lose focus so much?

In our world, focus is often lost because there are too many things going on around us. We have the ability to multi-task and switch between tasks quickly, which makes it easy to get distracted. But when we fail to focus on one task for long enough, we end up losing valuable time that could be spent working on something more productive.

Multitasking opens a can of worms of problems, which include:

• You may not be as effective as you think. When you’re constantly switching back and forth between different tasks, it’s hard to maintain high levels of concentration. This leads to less efficient performance.

• It’s harder to learn new skills. If you’re trying to learn how to use a new software program, it’s difficultto concentrate if you’re also doing other things.

• You may miss important details. When you’ve got multiple projects going on simultaneously, you may overlook important information. For example, if you’re writing an article while listening to music, you may miss key words or phrases that would help you write better.

• You may make mistakes. If you’ve been juggling several tasks at once, you may accidentally click the wrong button or type the wrong word. 


How do you stay focused in a world of distractions?

1. Keep Your Work Environment Clean and Simple

When you have too much going on around you, it can be hard to concentrate. For example, if you’re working on a project that requires lots of research, then having piles of books scattered all over the floor is not ideal. You want to keep things as clean and simple as possible so that you can focus on what you’re doing.

2. Set Up an Alarm Clock for Yourself

Setting alarms isa great way to make sure you wake up on time every day, and also to track how long you spend on an activity. If you set an alarm clock for yourself, then you won’t be tempted to check your phone during a task to see the time, as you will know it will sound when it is time to change tasks. This will help you avoid getting distracted by social media apps like Facebook and Twitter.

3. Turn Off Social Media Apps

It’s easy to become addicted to checking our phones throughout theday. However, this habit can cause us to lose focus. When we constantly check our phones, we tend to look at other people’s lives rather than concentrating on our own. Therefore, turning off these apps may help you stay more productive.

4. Use the Pomodoro Technique

The pomodoro technique involves breaking down large projects into smaller chunks. It helps you stay focused because you only have 25 minutes to complete each chunk. After completing a chunk, you take a short break before moving onto the next one.

5. Take Breaks Throughout the Day

Taking breaks throughout the day is important for staying focused. Try taking a walk outside, reading a book, oreven listening to music. These activities will give you something else to think about besides your work.

6. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for being able to focus. Studies show that those who get less than six hours of sleep per night are more likely to procrastinate, which means they’ll struggle with focus. 


What "Deep Work" Tells Us

Best selling author Cal Newport considers “Deep Work” to be somewhat of a superpower in our increasingly competitive 21st-century economy. He defines Deep Work as the “ability to focus, without distraction on a cognitively demanding task” and has noticed it becoming increasingly scarce in today's digital world.

“Shallow Work” on the other hand is “non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style work, often performed while distracted”. There’s nothing wrong with shallow work - many important tasks can be completed without much focus at all, and can even serve as a form of break for our minds! Newport’s point though, is that in order to perform at the peak of your capabilities and contribute all that you are capable of, you need to commit to developing deep work as a habit. Without focus, we are unable to master complex tasks, create masterful works of creativity, or keep to specified timelines.

You may be thinking; “well DUH, of course I need to focus to perform my best” and you’re right, this is somewhat obvious stuff. So then why does our society repeatedly fail to treat it as such? Focus is a SKILL that needs to be developed, honed, and most importantly protected! So why do we relinquish this skill to constant hits of dopamine from social media or our email inboxes?


Distractions are Everywhere

Today we are constantly bombarded with distractions that generations before us never even had to consider. I think it’s safe to say that at this point, we are all very much aware of just how distracting social media or our inboxes can be - but are we giving this problem enough attention? Can you confidently say that you are performing at your best or most efficient, and that you are using technology as effectively as you possibly can, with as few downsides as possible?

Personally, I cannot make this claim and I know this because I have actually made the attempt to audit my screen time and schedule as a whole, and realized how hard it can be to achieve peak productivity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is almost impossible! It’s something that we all must continuously strive for and yet never actually realize entirely.


The Solution?

How do we get as close to peak efficiency as possible? Like I mentioned, it starts by sitting down with yourself and auditing, with brutal honesty, where you are currently at in terms of your focus and distractions. This idea of “auditing” is nothing new either, but after that comes the difficult part… discipline.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that our willpower each day is limited, which is why Steve Jobs, for example, wore the same outfit every single day - to conserve willpower through limiting active choices. You’ll be happy to know that we don't have to sacrifice our fashionable reputation to achieve this, however. What the legendary Apple CEO was really doing was simply creating a routine.

Routines, when developed slowly and carefully over time, allow our conscious mind to hand over the strenuous task of disciplining ourselves to our unconscious mind. For example, once you muster the incredible discipline to go for a run first thing in the morning every day for a few months, this becomes a routine. You will soon reach a point where it becomes easier to simply drag yourself to the door, slip on your shoes and get after it rather than skipping a day! Think about that for a second… easier to do the difficult thing… that's the power of routine!

Now imagine what you could achieve if you apply this framework to your workflow and make it a routine to fiercely defend your mind from distracting notifications and alerts, allowing yourself to work deeply! It helps to begin slowly, maybe even only mustering half an hour of intense, uninterrupted focus, before readjusting your standing desk to an upright position to give your brain a break and relax into some more shallow tasks.


Simplicity is Key

There’s no doubt that we could all take some advice from author Cal Newport, and the titans of industry both past and present when it comes to focus and workflow. These accomplished men and women understand deeply the struggle to defend their minds from useless information in order to develop simplistic and yet powerful routines that unlock their true potential through the use of focused, deep work.

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More about the author

Lily Cooper

Writer at RISEDESK

Lily is a Rotman Commerce student at the University of Toronto, and is the Creative Content Writer at Risedesk. Pursuing minors in English and Economics, Lily is also the Film and TV Representative at RCEM, and has a passion for journalism, literature, and entertainment.