Be More Effective – Week 21: Remove Distractions


Do you envy the artist who is immersed in his painting or the monk who seems to be lost in his meditation? The trick to get there is to tune out all distractions. If we do something that we truly and deeply love, this can happen by itself. For example as you ge fully immersed when you watch your favorite team playing.

However, more often than not, we get distracted by something shiny and interesting popping up just when we started to get into out task. It takes up to 20 mins to fully get back into a task once distracted.

Remove all distractions. Observe what catches your attention and turn it off until you decide to take a break. Deliberately switch between deep focus and unfocused catch-up.

Unless you want to challenge your inner monk and develop focus despite external distractions, you should make your life easier by just eliminating them.

Turn off notifications

A classic distractor are any notifications on your computer or phone. Beeping sounds and popping windows for emails, text messages, IMs or even stupid system notifications pop in our visual field all the time (and the beeping makes sure, we notice even if we don’t look at our phone).

Turn off all notifications. I mean all of them. On my computer and phone, I have no email or text notifications. The only thing that I allow to interrupt me is a text from my wife or kids. Anything else can wait.

Put your phone on silent while you work, or better even, turn it off. If a call was important, the caller will leave a message. Personally I never answer the phone, but that’s a different story and probably a little too nerdy for most.

When you have a break time, go back to your email, pick up your phone, and check if there is something important that requires your attention.

Work in spurts – spurts of deep attention, and then spurts of catching up with distractions.

Snooze messages

You can even snooze emails or text messages for a period of time when you don’t want to be distracted. It’s easy to create rules for that in your email client, and your phone can be put into airplane mode.

Turn your email and texts off for the weekend. I have a rule in my Outlook client that directs my work email to a folder that I won’t see on my phone on the weekend. That rule lets through messages that are marked as urgent. Everything else has to wait until Monday.

Focus on One App at a Time

Now that we have turned of interrupting notifications, we will take it one step further. Kill multitasking.

Windows on a computer look nice. And they distract, dividing your focus across multiple apps.

Do one task at a time. Don’t allow distractions in your peripheral vision. Close all windows but the one you are working on. If you don’t want to do that, open the window / application you’re working in full-screen.

Modern computers support multiple virtual desktops. Move your focus app to a clean desktop where noting else is opened. Ban the distractions in your peripheral vision.

Focus on what you do. One thing at a time.

Deliberately change between one app and checking multiple inputs and signals. Make a choice whether you are tactical or strategic. Both important but not at the same time.

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