1. Find a quiet place with few distractions — like a library.
When I am at a library, I can find and keep a high degree of focus. There is nobody to distract me, and the quietness and solitude helps me to stay on task. I can fill my entire mind with the task to be accomplished, and I work much more effectively as a result.
Sometimes I work from home which also has its benefits, but I also find it is easy to get distracted. There are games on my computer, a TV, a radio, various chores that need to be done, and it is hard to maintain focus for a long period of time. If someone else is home, too, then forget it — work time is over.
There is also a psychological component to it — the home is a place of relaxation and socializing, two goals which can conflict with getting things done. A library is a place for study and concentration, which is more conducive to getting things done.
2. Limit multi-tasking.
We humans may have highly parallel brains, but we are mostly single-task creatures — we are more effective at concentrating on one task at a time.
I have never understood the hype of being an “effective multi-tasker” when trying to do several tasks at once is actually just a good way of sucking up time. Whether it be checking up on email or chatting on an instant messenger while trying to get stuff done, all of the constant context switches will simply lower your overall productivity.
Here is a very simple proof: Compare the speed of writing “a, b, c, d, e” five times in a row, versus writing the same sequence but doing all of the As first, then all of the Bs, etc…. Which series do you complete faster?
3. Limit fast-burning carb intake.
Another source of distractions can be frequent hunger pains or periodic blood sugar crashes. These happen more often when we have a high-carb diet, or when we eat a diet with lots of refined foods and sugars.
Stick to fruit, vegetables, and hearty carbs, and keep overall calories from fast-burning carbs low. Get more energy from healthy fats, which burn more slowly and are more effective for long, sustained workloads. Train your body to burn more fat instead of asking for sugar every couple of hours, and you will be able to work more effectively as well as have a healthier metabolism.
4. Set aside enough time for relaxation and downtime.
Our brains become depleted over a whole workday, especially one involving a lot of mental focus and energy. Schedule the more difficult tasks for earlier in the day, and ensure you have enough downtime in the evenings to connect with loved ones, reflect on the day, and get enough sleep to be fully prepared for the next day. Apps like F.lux help to make it easier to sleep at night.
Don’t forget about physical play and exercise — this is especially important for those of us that spend hours in front of a screen and don’t move around enough.
5. Do only one task at a time — but have many tasks to choose from.
One quick road to burnout is to do the same thing, hour after hour, and day after day. A bored and burned-out brain is an easily distracted brain. Do a variety of tasks over the workday to keep things interesting and to exercise different parts of your brain, resulting in a more balanced workload and more overall productivity and creativity.
Dear reader, what are your tips for reducing distractions and increasing productivity? I would love to hear them. 🙂