25 Tips To Reduce Digital Distractions And Improve Your Focus
by TeachThought Staff
One of 21st-century life’s cruelest ironies is that technology has saved us a lot of time, which we then turn around and spend using said technology.
Most of us are constantly being bombarded by distractions, from coworkers to texts and emails to enticing Web headlines. The good news is Skynet has not taken over yet; we can still control the machines and manipulate them to not hinder our concentration.
25 Tips To Reduce Digital Distractions And Improve Your Focus
1. Stop valuing the wrong things
Staying up-to-date on the very latest information, events, messages, and developments is less important than the quality of your work and relationships. Get this straight in your head, and it might make other efforts to improve your focus a little easier.
2. Use Forest
Every time you lose focus, you kill a plant. Do you want to kill the little sprout you just made? Of course you don’t. (You can find the app here.)
3. Track your productivity
Make a simple three-item to-do list and hold yourself accountable when it takes all day to get one item done.
4. Leave your phone in another room
The benefit here should be obvious. Even if you ‘need’ the phone for certain tasks, see if those can wait or be done in some other way that doesn’t require the phone.
5. Set boundaries
Let others around you know when you’re working or reading or writing or whatever requires focus. You can even reward them (especially children) for ‘leaving you alone’ and allowing you to remove distractions and focus.
6. Set a schedule
Which can help set boundaries, too.
7. Use OneTab
Too many tabs, too little focus. While three tabs might be useful, 13 makes a mess. Use OneTab. (We use this extensively at TeachThought.)
Unsubscribe from all but the most useful newsletters, feeds, text alerts, and other ‘pushed directly to you’ information and notifications.
Focus is a muscle and can grow or atrophy. The more accustomed you are to focusing for a set amount of time, the more natural it will become. Yay for neuroplasticity!
Meditation can help develop focus but it also can help you ‘let go’–to give your brain a break. An exhausted brain not only leads to poor focus but can lead to poor sleep as well.
11. Use labels in email
The idea here is to organize emails by sender, subject line, etc., to automatically separate more and less important messages. It won’t always work but properly set up, can help save time and mental energy.
12. Reward yourself for focus
Learning is about feedback loops so create healthier feedback loops. Reward yourself for healthy behaviors.
13. Use background noise
Our own Terry Heick can barely function without brown noise or other types of ‘background’ sound. We even made a background noise for writing (though it can be useful for reading or anything else, really).
14. Use voice search and related commands
Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, and other similar tools can reduce the number of times you need to pick up your phone or open another browser tab. Obviously how much this improves your focus depends on how you use it.
15. Be invisible
Google and Facebook both have chat features that activate when you log into your account, unless you have them set to be signed off by default. As you’re easily distracted, that’s exactly how you’ll want to have them set. It’s bad enough you’re on Facebook in the first place; the last thing you need is to get sucked into a lengthy conversation with a friend.
16. Simplify your tools
Don’t use software with more features than you need. For example, if you’re writing a blog post, a cover letter, a term paper, or anything else, use the simplest tool to get that exact job done. Avoid the rabbit holes of ‘featured-packed’ tools if distractions are a problem for you.
17. Use Pocket
The Pocket app (formerly known as Read It Later) is a great way to come back to distracting articles and videos on your devices when you have more time. Nicknamed ‘the DVR of the web,’ it lets you save links on all the most popular devices.
18. Adjust or turn off notifications
One example? On Windows PCs, choosing to install updates on the spot can be a ticket to lots of wasted time unpacking, installing, and rebooting. Instead, use the steps listed here to restrict updates to installing only when you shut down your computer. Your smartphone and wearables like Android and Apple Watches are more obvious examples of digital distractions. Mute them to improve your focus.
19. Know thyself
If you know your favorite time-killing websites, you’ll be better able to monitor yourself. There are even apps and browser extensions that can keep you from checking certain sites during certain times if you can’t help yourself.
20. Consider noise-canceling headphones
According to the subtle unwritten rules of office politics, headphones are kosher, earplugs are not. Spending $200 on a pair might seem exorbitant, but compared with the money you’ll be out when you’re fired because you can’t get your work done because you’re always distracted in the office, it’s a downright steal. Don’t have $200? There are far more affordable alternatives.
21. Pick the medium carefully
For dealing with niggling text messages, PC World recommends moving the medium to something that works better for your schedule. If someone texts you, instead of immediately responding (and opening yourself up to more distracting messages), call them back during your next break or email them. Either way stretches the dialogue out and buys you more time to work.
22. Use one screen (not two)
For example, having a dual-monitor setup is supposed to be such a productivity booster, but at least one time management expert recommends ditching the second display. More screen real estate is just an invitation to open more windows and programs. Having just one forces you to focus.
23. Consolidate your feeds
When you do give in to distractions, streamlining the experience will at least cut down on the time you waste on them. Use Tweetdeck to make reading Twitter updates more efficient, and try Flipboard for turning your life into ‘your personal magazine.’
24. Schedule breaks
The chances you’ll give into distraction increase the longer you go without a break. Using an app like Time Out, you’ll get subtle reminders to get up, stretch your legs, and get a dose of social or news every 90 minutes.
Work in short bursts if you have to as you develop your ability to focus over time.
25. Unplug completely
If all else fails, flip the slider on your Wi-Fi to off or unplug the Ethernet cable, turn off your phone, lock the door, and close the window. If you’re still finding yourself distracted, you may need a digital detox.
This is a cross-post from onlinecollege.org; previously published at TeachThought.com