Distraction Reduction: Top Ten Tips on How to block out the world and get on with things

Focus, it escapes me frequently, but not as much as it used to. Here are my top ten tips for pushing the world to one side.

  1. Get a decent pair of headphones. You don't need to spend much, most rubber tipped 'phones will keep the outside world out and your world in. I'd recommend Sony MDREX310LPB if you're going easy on the budget or Bose® QuietComfort® 15 if you're feeling flush.
  2. Headphones won't filter all of your auditory interruptions so some music will get rid of the rest. Studies show that verbal background noise, such as radio, podcasts, or even music with lyrics has a cognitive overhead generated by your brain receiving, deciphering & then dismissing the input. Save yourself the hassle and instead build your own or subscribe to, Spotify Playlists of music with no or minimal lyrics. Here's a few to get you started: "Chill Digital" & "Hip Hop Instrumentals"
  3. Turn off notifications on your Smartphone. Both IOS & Android allow granular control over notifications generated by your phone - do you really need that 20 second distraction from "Zombie Dinosaur Rider" telling you about some special offer you're not going to take up? No. Go through all the apps that send you notifications, turn every single one of them off, even email. Now go through them all again and turn on the ones you really *need* to have instant notification about.
  4. Go a step further and consider scheduling the Do Not Disturb  function on your phone to kick in a) all work day and b) all night. Studies show you can suffer lower quality sleep if your phone lights up at night, even if you don't wake up.
  5. Use a time slicing focus technique. The Pomodoro method boils down to little more than focusing intently for 25 minutes and pushing interruptions, internal or external, to specified, planned periods later in the day. Used carefully it reduces the number of interruptions that need actioning (as they have been deferred to later, on reflection they are often un necessary) & forces you to get into a good working rthym as you spend 25 quality minutes on a problem.
  6. Have a trusted bucket to put your concerns and issues in. Consider, I'm busy writing a proposal for a potential new client. Whilst writing out the project specification, into my head pops "You ran out of milk this morning when you made coffee". You can't stop these internal interruptions and if you don't do something with the interruption, it will keep popping up. Your brain doesn't differentiate between "Buy Some Milk" and "Finish this proposal before the end of the day or you'll get fired". My bucket is Omnifocus (Mac, IOS), although you could easily use a paper notepad, sticky notes or a dozen other tools. An interruption comes in, I triage it - basically "Is the house on fire" if it's not an emergency I put it in my bucket and check over them later. The interruption is handled, my brain stands down and considers things dealt with, I can concentrate on the task at hand. Use whatever bucket you like but make sure you a) trust it not to lose things and b) you sort through the bucket regularly. Yes - this is directly from Getting Things Done by David Allen. He rules, seriously.
  7. Opt out of emails. Create a smart folder in your email programme of choice and filter into it any emails that mention "Subscribe", "Unsubscribe", "Newsletter", "Subscription Settings", "Your Account" & any others that come to mind. Run through this folder and hit the unsubscribe link for everything. No really, everything. If it's that important you'll either go find it yourself or someone will contact you personally. I bet 50% of your emails are messages not addressed solely to you. Stop wasting your time deciding if you're interested in 10% off a new sofa, you're probably not looking for a new sofa and even if you are, why would you go with the first shiny thing dangled in front of you?
  8. Opt out of meetings. You probably don't need to be there, I've not been useful at more than 25% of the meetings I've ever been to. Generally they are time sinks that don't benefit you and are set up merely to fan the ego of some old wind bag who wants everyone to know how much effect they have on the project. You've got your prep time to worry about before you get to the meeting, travelling to and from the meeting, the time actually there and lastly, probably most importantly, the focus shift between writing your important report and moving into listening mode. Make an excuse, don't go.
  9. Shut the door. If you've got one, shut it.
  10. Change how you sit, if you share your room or office with other people, put your back to them so you're not distracted by people walking by, visitors to the office, the cleaner coming to change the bins, the pretty receptionist, the window cleaner.

These tips on their own won't make you a productivity genius but I reckon you can probably double your working time by implementing them all.

What steps do you take to reduce distractions? Please leave your comments below!

Ooo before I forget - here's a great video that might help as well.