Distractions are everywhere. They can be everything from traffic noises to the scratch of a tag somewhere in your clothes. Yet if you don’t have methods to get past distractions, you will have little chance of success in focusing.
Focusing can be hard for me. It is especially hard when I am tired, when Iam full of energy, at home, at work, trying to do to much, when I’m bored…I guess just about any time. Without the focus, though, I can’t get anything done, and so I have a set of 4 tricks to get past distractions.
#1 Use Those Tomatoes
The Pomodoro method, named for a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, is deceptively simple, and amazingly powerful.
You set a timer for 25 minutes and work on your task, full speed ahead. When the timer rings, you set it for 5 minutes and do whatever you want. Repeat this 3 more times. After this, take a break for 20-30 minutes.
Why this works: this method works because it holds you to focus in short (but not too short) bursts, and promises a break at the end of each one. 25 minutes is long enough to engage with the task, but short enough that your brain isn’t overwhelmed.
#2 Write It Down
I always have thoughts pinging through my head. But rather than force them out of the way, I let them flow through…right onto paper. I keep a piece of scrap paper next to where I am working, and if I have a thought that is trying to pull me away, I write down enough words for me to understand what the thought is. Then I get back to work.
Why this works: thoughts that are strong enough to grab your attention are going to keep recurring until your mind is convinced that they won’t be forgotten. Getting tasks out of your head and onto paper eliminates the mental distraction.
#3 & #4 Block Noise and Lights (And Other Senses)
I have trouble working if there is too much or not the right type of noise. I can write to Mozart and Beethoven, but not anything with words. I can’t concentrate in a room with too little or the wrong kind of light..but having a window in front of me will pull me off course.
If I truly want to focus, I need to eliminate the distractions of light and noise. I will put on noise-cancelling headphones and pull up Google Play’s Mozart radio (or my pink noise track, if I am really off track). I will either add light to my workspace or pull a shade. And I keep my back to the window.
Why this works: limiting sensory inputs limits attention-snatching distractions. Keeping the noise level constant allows it to fade into the background. Keeping the light level ideal keeps it from becoming an irritation.
I have never been one to do concentrated work in a place where there are human distractions. Group study sessions turned into chat as I gave up the hope of being able to process what I was reading. Working in our family’s shared office leads me to follow what is going on with the others in the room (including the animals). Even at work, coworkers discussing technical issues will suck me out of my task and into the chat. For really hard cases of distraction, I have to isolate.
I am very lucky that I have a space all my own. My husband converted a walk-in closet to a writing studio for me. No one comes in without my permission, and it is snug, away from the house (I can hear nothing of what is going on). No one is there to ask me questions or comment on anything.
Why this works: this is the ultimate in controlling your environment. When you are alone, you can set all the other methods in place and not be worried about being distracted by any beings.
My 4 tricks to get past distraction are very simple, but when used together, provide me with surefire way to get things done. By setting a timer, writing down thoughts, controlling my senses and isolating, I find that I can slip into the groove of concentration much more readily than at other times.
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