Finding Focus During Distraction

Focusing on an Eye Chart

In the past there have been posts about culling your task list and dropping things that aren’t important that might be stealing away your attention. Both of these are great ways to make sure your to-do list is full of things worth doing. But at the end of the day, tampering with your to-dos isn’t actually getting anything done, even if it is ensuring that things run smoother.

To get things done, you have to overcome distractions and simply focus on the task at hand—which is often a task in and of itself. Sometimes a mundane task that is painfully difficult to focus on is also desperately important. (Data entry may be boring, but if that data isn’t entered, it can’t be used.) So how do you focus on a task in spite of distracting factors? No one answer works for everyone, but here are a few tips.

Unplug the internet. If there is any way to get what you’re doing done without being connected to an entire world of distractions, you should do it that way. The internet is full of endless links and information.

Keep a clean desk. You may be someone who needs a little clutter around to feel comfortable. But if not, if your relationship with your desk clutter ranges anywhere from antagonistic to indifferent, do everything in your power to keep your desk clear. This will take away the option to fiddle with any of the items sitting around and essentially creates blinders.

Create a ritual. Be both Pavlov and the dog with this method. When you’re not having trouble focusing, create a unique action you do before starting a task. Crack your knuckles, eat a carrot, listen to a particular song—pretty much anything will work, so long as it’s fairly unique and isn’t something you do when you aren’t trying to get things done. Continue this ritual even when you don’t feel focused but you need to start a task. Sometimes this trigger will become the bell in a Pavlov experiment, only instead of salivating for food, you start focusing.

Make it a break. If the task is particularly dull, but is something you can do in short snippets (15–20 minutes) while still doing it well, use it as a break between other tasks you enjoy more. Then instead of doing 5 hours of straight data entry, you could do it in 15 “breaks.” If you take 5 of these breaks a day (once every 1.5–2 hours), you’ll have the mundane task completed in 3 days of work, with no extreme stress or agony. The break method takes more foresight than the 5 straight hours method, but if you can’t focus for those 5 straight hours, you’re wasting you time for lack of a little forward thinking. This method ensures you’re maximizing your time.

What tricks do you use to stay focused on the task at hand?

Image by Jeroen van Oostrom via

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