Techniques To Take Control Of Your Attention
With the aid of a computer we can accomplish a lot of work, however, it’s a double-edged sword. If left unchecked the same computer can be a distraction and make you lose focus. In this article I outline how to focus while working on your computer, allowing you to finally finish your work!
Keep Your Environment Clean
A place for everything and everything in its placeCharles A. Goodrich
Clean Your Desk
Before you even sit in front of your computer it’s important to keep your work space clean. Unnecessary clutter on your desk can be a visual distraction, they’re constant reminders that you have unfinished tasks lying around. This can induce stress levels and make it difficult to stay focused as you work.
Apart from a lamp, glass of water and my computer, there’s nothing else on my desk. Everything else is tucked neatly away in my drawers.
Have a look around your desk. Are there piles of papers, notebooks or pens lying around? Can you remove any unnecessary clutter?
Clean Your Desktop
Is the image above a familiar sight? If so, you’re distracted before you’ve even begun. Similar to your physical environment, your digital environment needs to be treated with the same amount of care. Organise your files properly and put them away in its dedicate place. Do not let any file or app sit on your desktop. By limiting visual distractions it removes the chance of being distracted.
The image above is my current desktop. I’ve removed all files, apps and even the taskbar. When I turn on the computer, the first thing I see is a beautiful photo with an inspirational quote. Depending on my frame of mind I would update the phrase to whatever is relevant. Since it’s the first thing I see after turning on the computer, it’s a great place to remind myself of what’s important.
If you’d like a copy of the same background or something similar. I have a few collection of similar background that you can download for free here.
Recommended Reading: Motivational Wallpapers
Stay Focused By Typing It In
It is essential to pause, take a moment and reflectJohn Sellars
By keeping an app on the desktop or on the taskbar, we’re one click away from accessing it and getting lost in a digital vortex. If you were to remove all app shortcuts and tell yourself to type the specific app you need. It’ll allows you to pause and be mindful of what you’re doing. I use the app Ueli to achieve this.
Upon opening Ueli you’re presented with an empty search bar. With it’s minimal and simplistic design, Ueli has prevented me from being distracted when searching for an app.
You can even use the built-in search function in your operating system if you prefer to not install a new app. Remember, what you’re trying to do is allow yourself to pause every know and then.
Take Willpower Out Of The Equation
When everything is a possibility, it actually becomes harder to make the right choice (or any choice at all). This is the paradox of choice.James Clear
Managing your willpower is difficult. Depending on your levels of hunger, energy or the state of your environment, the ability to make the right decision can be easily affected.
The more decisions you make throughout the day, the poorer your quality of decisions will be. This is known as decision fatigue. We cannot rely on our willpower to make the right decision when dealing with distractions. The decision to check your Twitter feed, watch a YouTube video or check your emails can be draining. Soon enough, your willpower will be at its lowest.
Below are a few techniques that can help you manage your willpower.
How To Eliminate Distractions
Allowing an app to send you push notifications is like allowing a store clerk to grab you by the ear and drag you into their store. You’re letting someone insert a commercial into your life anytime they want.David Pierce
According to a recent study, after a simple distraction it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. If you’re distracted 3 times within 5 minutes, you’ve lost about an hour of your time trying to settle back in.
From email to Facebook, notifications are rampant on your desktop environment. If left unchecked, they will take your focus away.
Depending on your operating system you will need to access your notification settings and select what app passes through the net. I understand some people need to be notified by a certain app, but before you decide on which app should pass through, ask yourself this,
“Do I need to be immediately notified by this app? Or can it wait for later?”
Personally, any distraction – even a little – can pull my attention away. All but one notification passes through, which I’ll explain further down this article.
Are there any apps that are distracting you as you work? Can you remove them? Experiment with your settings and find a healthy balance with what suits your needs.
Add Additional Steps To Access
When distraction is hard to access, you don’t have to worry about willpower.Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky
Completely blocking access to a site prevents you from exercising your willpower, but what if you need to occasionally access it for work?
Adding several steps in-between is a great method to stop you from mindlessly accessing an app. The harder it is, the less motivated you will be to gain access.
If you need to access a site for work then you will have to go through each step. It can be a hassle, but by not putting this in place, you run the risk of relying on your willpower.
My weakness is YouTube. I can get lost in a YouTube rabbit hole and come out of it not knowing where the last hour went. Recognising this, I blocked myself from accessing the site using a powerful browser plugin called Leechblock.
In order for me to gain access I would need to input the password, “Do I need to use this?”
Sounds ridiculous, but by typing that specific question it helps me be mindful of my actions. Remember what I said about pausing?
Are there any sites or apps that you can’t help but access? If so, try and include additional steps to make it harder for you to access.
Add A Time Limit
How did it get so late so soon?Dr. Seuss
If you need to access a site but you’re worried about losing your focus, another technique is to add a time limit. Once the timer is done, you’re immediately locked out again.
As I mentioned earlier, YouTube my weakness. Once I’m in, I’ve set a time limit of only 5 minutes of access. Once the time limit is done, I’m locked out until I enter the password again.
Leechblock also includes a timer function. I recommend you install the plugin on your browser and experiment with the settings to suit your needs.
Increase Your Focus By Batching your Tasks
I’m a huge fan of batching because it saves time and makes life simpler at the same time.Scott Young
Batching is the grouping of similar tasks that require similar resources. Completing one task at a time allows you to focus all of your energy, giving you a greater chance of completing your work.
I like to batch my tasks throughout the day. Rather than reading emails as they come in one at a time, I prefer to periodically check them at specific times of the day. From checking emails to meetings, I batch all of my tasks.
Do you tend to juggle a myriad of tasks all at the same time? Multi-tasking isn’t productive, look at your schedule and see how you can batch your tasks instead.
Take Breaks To Help You Focus
The art of resting the mind and the power of dismissing from it all care and worry is probably one of the secrets of our great men.David Allen
In order for you to maintain a healthy balance of focus, you need to make sure that you take several breaks. This is not an excuse for you to take a break every 5 minutes, but it’s important to allow yourself to walk away from your computer and take your mind off work.
I implement the Pomodoro Technique to remind me to step away from the computer. After focusing on my work for 25 minutes, I’m notified to take a break. It’s the only notification that I allow on my computer.
Recommended Reading: What Is The Pomodoro Technique?
Perhaps you like to zero in on your work for long periods of time. That’s fine. Just make sure you include a few breaks and give your mind some time to rest. You’ll find upon returning, you’ll have more focus to finish off your work.
Keep Experimenting & Stay Focused
In summary, here are a few techniques that you can include to help you focus while you sit in front of your computer:
- Keep your environment clean – both physical and digital environments
- Type it in – use the search bar to open up apps
- Don’t rely on your willpower – remove all decision-making with the help of apps
- Batch your work – multi-tasking doesn’t work
- Take breaks – they’re just as important as working itself
Experimentation is important when trying to figure out your own system. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. If you’re struggling to stay focused I recommend testing out a few of the techniques I listed in this article. The more you experiment, the better your system will be.
What’s important is that you’re aware of the problem and if you’ve reached this far, it means you’re serious about finding a solution. Keep on experimenting and if you’ve found a different technique that keeps you focused, I’d love to hear about it!