When I was in college, I developed a terrible addiction to Facebook. By the time finals week arrived, I couldn’t go 30 minutes without a dose of dog videos.
Your lifetime is made up of days, days of hours and hours of minutes. Although, a minute or ten doesn’t seem like much, the idea that you can waste a few minutes is the biggest, fattest lie you’ll ever tell yourself. Life is fast, time flies and nobody’s going to wait or take pity on you because you stayed behind, absorbed with distractions and useless clutter. If you’re not careful, they will ruin your life before you know it. There are hundreds of decoys jumping in the front seat of your life and, collectively, they will take over the steering wheel if you allow them. They always promise extraordinary results and outstanding effects but what they really do is keep you from doing important things and achieving your big goals. You have no choice but to remove them if you have dreams and aspirations to attain.
There are several areas of life where these distractions can be managed and eliminated:
1. Clear your day up front before you start it
In the morning, before your workday begins, dedicate a few minutes to managing your schedule. A great way to do it is by applying the Covey time management matrix. Have a moment to set your priorities and determine which tasks are truly vital and urgent that day, which are not so urgent but still very important and which you should avoid, either by delegating or eliminating altogether. This last type of tasks may be tricky because they will often be urgent, though uninspiring, issues, like questions from colleagues concerning their problems, phone calls and emails that you answer by default, only because you’ve always done it and that’s the way it’s always been. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Not really. Take control and make a conscious decision of what you’re going to when they come knocking. Once you’ve made it, hold on to it and ruthlessly follow through.
2. Identify your main distractions
The first thing to do is to identify the most frequent distractions in your life. We all have some weak points. Maybe you like people stopping by your office and saying hello, because gossiping relaxes you and kills time. Maybe you are crazy about instant messaging, because you feel more important and connected. Maybe you are addicted to phone messages or phone chatting. Maybe you are addicted to looking at your watch every five seconds.
When you start with your focused mental work and somebody or something distracts you, write it down. You can do that for a few weeks, and you will soon discover your weak spots and identify the biggest distractions in your life.
3. Take a deep breath when you’re about to get distracted
Distractions come in waves. The urge to watch TV, clear your room (I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like clearing my room when it’s time to be productive, right?) and check your phone attacks you suddenly—and it can often be overwhelming.
But these intense urges only last for a short while. If you’re able to resist that initial wave, you’ll be able to carry on studying instead of succumbing to temptation.
Using this simple technique, you’ll spend four to eight seconds breathing deeply, after which you’ll get back to work. If you don’t use this technique, you’ll probably end up getting distracted for 15 minutes, or even longer.
4. Do One Thing at a Time
Multi-tasking is demonstrably proven to harm your performance in each task you try to coordinate; in other words, doing one task at a time ends up being a more effective option.
It may seem like managing two separate windows at the same time is the most productive thing to do, but it’s putting undue stress on your brain and is probably decreasing the quality of your work in both areas.
Instead, focus on just one task at a time; you’ll make fewer mistakes, and will probably end up finishing both tasks faster anyway.
5. Train Your Brain to Focus
No matter how much you block out external stimuli with headphones, or block distracting web sites, your own brain can still be your worst enemy. So, if your brain keeps jumping from thought to thought when you have work to do, you need to learn how to control it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “paying attention to your attention” and catching the wrong impulses before they take hold. Often, just getting started on a task is all you need to gain momentum. And it may sound silly, but regular meditation can go a long way.
6. Put your phone on silent mode and place it at the other end of the room
If you own a smartphone, you know how distracting it can be. Facebook, Twitter, email, text messaging and yes, the entire Internet, are at your fingertips.
Even a non-smartphone can be extremely distracting!
As such, I recommend that—at the start of your study session—you put your phone on silent mode and place it far away from you. Preferably, you should place it at the other end of the room.
This way, you won’t be interrupted by phone calls or text messages while you’re studying. You can always check your phone every 30 or 45 minutes when you take a break.
If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that few of the text messages and phone calls you receive require an immediate response, so it’s reasonable to get back to the other person when you’re taking a break.
7. Ask people to give you privacy
I’m sure that something like this has happened to you before while you were studying:
- Your mom came by to ask you about your day
- Your friend dropped by to chat
- Your younger brother asked you for help with his homework
- Your sister asked you for advice
The list goes on.
Don’t get me wrong; relationships are important. I firmly believe that, in many ways, the quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.
But when you’re studying, interruptions can be especially disruptive.
Just before you begin your study session, I recommend that you go up to the people who are most likely to disturb you and say something like this: “I have an exam coming up next week, so I need to focus. Would you please give me some privacy for the next two hours and not interrupt, unless it’s something really urgent?”
When you make such an intentional effort to ask others to respect your privacy and your commitment to academic excellence, they’re likely to show you that respect.
8. Do the opposite to everyone else
Another great method for avoiding distractions is to identify those quieter moments when no-one is around to bother you. I find early morning is a great time to be productive because no-one else is even up yet.
One of the secrets of successful people is to simply do the opposite to everyone else. So if everyone else gets up at 7am and goes to work at 9am, then get up at 5am, leave at 6am and miss all the traffic, plus gain access to those quiet moments before anyone else starts work.
So when are the distractions minimal for you? What times of day are naturally quiet and can you start to plan your day around those, instead of feeling like you have to conform to standard ‘working hours’.
9. Give yourself a break & Tune it out
One of the keys to doing great work is to know when to take a break. When you start to feel distracted, take a break, and then reassess and refocus yourself. It doesn’t just act as a reward–a short break can help your mind become clearer.
One of the best ways to tune everything out is to tune in to music. When everything around you is distracting, put on your headphones–find something that can serve as background music rather than music that holds your full attention. Music can help you concentrate, and the headphones signal others that you’re not available to chat.
10. Eliminate or minimize negative people in your life
These are people who play the victim, are stuck in unhealthy habits, or generally make you feel drained or bad about yourself. Surround yourself with those who are positive, focused, productive and ambitious. Remember the late iconic speaker Jim Rohn’s rule: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”