3 ways to avoid distractions

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Learn to avoid distractions, and you’ll not only create more time and focus for your writing, but you’ll do it with greater ease and relaxation, too…

By Ann Gomex

Distractions are one of the biggest barriers to a productive day, especially for writers. Even being a plane — once considered the pinnacle of distraction-free time — is rife with distractions.

Most of us will agree that we need to avoid distractions if we want to be productive. We want to manage interruptions if we want to achieve our goals.

But this is easier said than done. We are, after all, human. And resisting incoming messages is about as impossible as eating a single peanut. I think we both know I’m going to want more of those salty treats.

So, I wanted to share three strategies to avoid slipping down the spiral of distraction. I encourage you to use some or all these strategies. The more you embrace, the greater your focus.

1-Remove the temptation

We only have so much willpower to work with each day, and we don’t want to burn through it by resisting the temptation to check distractions. An “out of sight, out of mind” approach is far easier to navigate. So, when writing, I suggest you turn off all notifications related to email, texts, chats, and social media. Then minimize (or even close) these applications when you’re focusing on another task.

Yes, I’ve jumped straight to the big leagues with this recommendation. It might feel difficult. After all, those notifications can be so alluring. Plus, they soothe that incessant desire to know about “urgent” messages right away. But I encourage you to try it. Your productivity might amaze you when you operate without distractions. You’re also likely to notice that most incoming requests can wait for you to complete the other task. And when a truly urgent message arrives, it usually brings a friend in the form or a text or phone-call (i.e., “I just sent you an email”) which provides you with a nice safety net.

2-Work in a distraction-free zone

Most of where we do our digital work can feel like Grand Central Station, whether it’s our inbox or in a shared drive or on the internet. We may intend to work on a specific task, but we end up straying here and there. Trying to stay focused in one of these digital environments is like asking a kid to walk through a toy store without touching anything.

Instead, I encourage you to consider working in a less interruption-prone space. For example, I will often draft messages in a “work-in-process” Word document. This helps me a lot when I’m crafting multi-part messages that require me to go back and forth between a document and email. Every time I switch, I find I’m tempted to do a quick scan for other fresh messages. Drafting my more complex messages outside of email helps me stay more focused. Similarly, I try to batch any online research needs and shift them to the end of a task. When I am close to finishing my current task, I’m better able to ward off tangential clicks to random and enticing links when I finally do need to turn to the internet. If I were to draft these more detailed messages in email, I would undoubtably become distracted. Similarly, I try to batch my online research. I find I’m less distracted when I’m nearly finished a task and just need to confirm a few details online. I’m better able to resist the online distractions, which are primed and ready to pounce when my task finish line is within close reach.

I’ve also started taking meeting notes on a Remarkable (a note-taking device intentionally designed without a flurry of other functions), instead of on a tablet or computer (which put endless distractions in my hands).

3-Start each task with a simple goal

With every task, I aim to give myself a goal at the outset. I find this especially helpful for more complex and challenging tasks – the kind that are more prone to distraction. I set myself a goal (e.g., draft a summary) and often give myself a deadline (e.g., 20 minutes). Of course, my mind will try to entice me to switch gears. It will tempt me to stop what I’m doing and check email. But my simple goal gives me just enough executive functioning to keep myself on track., Then, once I achieve this goal, I indulge in any new messages, fully justifying this well-deserved reward.

Ultimately, the more we protect our focus, the faster we achieve our goals. I hope these three practical and proven strategies give you the distraction-free time you need to focus on what you value most.

For more strategies you can use to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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