In this post, I talk about the most common distractions you might encounter in your life and work, how they really affect our productivity, and how to eliminate distractions as best as you can.
Read on to learn more.
the truth about willpower
I'm sure you're aware that there are a multitude of distractions that tempt us away from doing deep focus work – a ding here, a ring there – but how much are distractions actually affecting us everyday?
Before I answer that question, I want to tell you something that those "productivity gurus" out there might not want to admit:
Willpower is not enough to be more productive.
Many gurus will tell you willpower is enough, that all you need to is to go go go. But I'm here to tell you that, yes, willpower is great to start, but in the world we live in, willpower just isn't enough.
We often think that we can just power through our tasks, be it for work or our passion projects.
But unless we set ourselves up in a way that makes sure we can stay productive as much as possible – especially our environment – then we can't really be as productive as might want.
willpower is great to start, but in the busy, high-tech, distraction-ridden world we live in, willpower just isn't enough.
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THE TRUTH ABOUT WHY YOU FEEL OVERWHELMED AND OVERWORKED
I seem to be on a roll with disagreeing with a bunch of productivity gurus because I have yet another widely-spread truth that I want to debunk.
The real reason you're overwhelmed and overworked isn't just because you aren't productive.
That's only the surface reason.
To get to the bottom of these feelings of overwhelm, we need to get to the Root Cause, much like getting to know our Root Why helps us set and stick to more achievable goals.
So one of the biggest reasons you feel overwhelmed and overworked, despite seemingly working all day? It's because of your environment and the distractions in them.
Think about it: when was the last time you got to do a good hour of deep focus work free from any kind of distraction?
Sometimes it feels like the moment we decide to hit the ground running – okay, I'm ready to get shiz done – suddenly, something pulls us away – oh, look, someone sent us a DM on Instagram! – and we're back to Square One: aka attempting to get our productive mojo on.
In a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes about 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from a distraction.
And if you get distracted even just thrice a day, that's up to an hour of lost opportunities to have done deep focus, quality work.
The reason for the lag is because it takes a little bit of time before our brains can get back into the task that we're doing. We have remember where we left off, we have to chase a train of thought, we have to go back a few steps...
And repeat this cycle a few times a day, and you're left feeling like you haven't gotten nearly enough done, like you spent all that time working and brainstorming and thinking, and for what? A little bit of work done?
Been there, done that, my friend. Not fun.
In this next section, I'll walk you through different distractions that are plaguing the way we work, how bad they are, and what we can do about them.
The 2 major distraction groups plaguing modern man
After studying pop science about neurology, reading productivity studies, and implementing the top productivity tips out there, I've found that unless we can contain and eliminate distractions, we can't truly get anything done.
To understand how to effectively eliminate distractions, I first want to walk you through what I've categorized as the 2 Major Distraction Groups.
Each group has varying effects and consequences on our productivity, and knowing these will help you set yourself up in a more truly-productive environment.
it takes about 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from a distraction.
First off are the minute distractions. I mean this in two ways: minute, as in small or tiny; and minute, as in a 60-second interval.
I find the double meaning perfect because minute captures exactly what these distractions are.
So say you were working on some slides for a workshop in the middle of café, then one of the baristas comes over and puts down your order at the table.
This might take your attention off your work for a quick minute. But it wasn't very significant, and it takes only a few seconds (or none at all) to get back to what you were doing.
This is the same thing as things like a co-worker asking you to sign a document, someone asking for the time, or even a pet coming into your room to lay down on your lap.
As long as it doesn't really take much of your time away from your work, is easy to accomplish as a passing task, then it counts as a minute distraction and there isn't much to be worried about.
Take a minute to think about the last time you encountered a Minute Distraction. How did you feel – did it distract you significantly or did you barely notice or register it as a distraction?
The second major group of distractions are what I call Infinite Time-Sucks. As the name suggests, these are the distractions that really suck away at our time – often without us noticing.
I'm going to name two of the most common Infinite Time-Sucks, but before I do, do you want to try and guess?
Yup, you guessed it, you smart-pants you. Email and social media.
(And depending on what you have, you can toss in entertainment apps like Netflix in those examples too.)
The reason Infinite Time-Sucks are so dangerous for our productivity are because we barely notice all the time they've made us waste until it's way too late.
And they're highly addictive too. When it comes to email or social media, "just one" is rarely enough. There's no "just one" email or "just one" Insta-Story or Facebook post.
These apps are designed to be addictive – because that's how they make money. And while I don't blame a business for trying to make money as best as it can, I do think it's our responsibility to control our use of these Infinite Time-Sucks (and not the other way around).
When it comes to infinite time-sucks, "just one" is rarely enough.
Infinite Time-Sucks are the distraction we ought to beware of. These are the distractions that take a significant amount of time away from our deep focus work, and as we learned before, these are the reasons it takes about 20 minutes before we get back into our productive work.
what about the case of notifications?
So if we know what these Infinite Time-Sucks are, what about the notifications that often come with them?
In my opinion, notifications from email or social media can be just as distracting because, more often than not, we're left wondering what these notifications hold.
When we see a notification that someone just sent us a message on Instagram, for example, we often wonder what that message is or want to read the whole thing right away.
And even if you don't indulge and check what's in the notification, just wondering what's in it can keep us from getting into deep-focus work.
Curiosity and endless musing can be equally distracting.
easy ways to eliminate distractions today
Now that you know the two major groups of distractions, it's time to get into the different, actionable ways you can eliminate distractions as much as possible.
identify which things are keeping you from getting focused
I'm a big believer in being as self-aware as possible. So if you want to eliminate distractions as effectively as possible, you're going to want to know what are the things actually keeping you from doing deep focus work.
Refer back to the 2 major distraction groups I discussed above, and really be honest and identify which things are taking away your focus and productivity.
Everyone is different, so I can't provide a one-size-fits-all list of all the things that make us unproductive.
For example, I've been in the productivity game for a while and I've trained myself to only check social media and email a few times a day. I have no problem sticking to a time limit I set for myself.
But if, for you, this isn't the case, don't feel bad. Sometimes it's just a matter of training yourself to be more disciplined. Or to completely eliminate these Time-Sucks altogether.
explore options that will lessen or eliminate your exposure to these distractions
While I mentioned I have a lot of self-discipline and can limit my use of distracting apps, for example, it doesn't mean I'm completely immune to the temptation of just one more refresh, just one more post.
And – me being honest – I've actually set myself up in a way that gives me less (or no) exposure to any of these distractions. These tactics have helped me become more disciplined – because while I have great willpower, like I said, willpower just isn't enough.
So once you know what your common distractions are, it's time to lessen or eliminate these distractions altogether.
Below, I've compiled a few of my favorite tips.
only allow notifications from essential apps
If you find yourself annoyed by the many rings and dings of apps on your devices, switch them off completely.
My rule of thumb is: if I really don't need to see important reminders from this app, then I don't need to allow notifs to come through.
If you want to follow this, then you'll only allow notifications from Calendars, Reminders, and any app that gives you an essential nudge (like habit trackers).
work away from these distraction sources
Another way to lessen your exposure is working away from distraction sources altogether.
If you're distracted by the sound of a company phone ringing, try to switch desks. If the TV is a constant source of temptation, set up a workspace far away from it.
Out of sight, out of mind.
schedule time to indulge in infinite time-sucks
My approach to productivity is all about balance, so I don't believe in depriving myself of things that give me joy or entertainment.
For example, I love using my Instagram to post helpful tips, either on my feed or my Stories. So I can't imagine deleting the app and my account for good, especially because I also follow a lot of accounts who inspire me and make my social media a better place (wink).
Same as my time on Netflix – I love movies and shows, and I can't imagine not ever indulging from time to time.
But what's important is not going overboard. Limit the time you spend on these apps.
If not by measures of time (minutes/hours), then think of measures native to Infinite Time-Suck (episodes/posts/etc).
set up a "deep focus" work area at home
If you can manage it, have a dedicated space in your home for only doing deep focus work – and make sure you do nothing but that when you're there.
This can be a room that you turn into an office. Or just a corner with a desk reserved for your deep focus endeavors.
I can't stress enough that you need to only use this spot for that purpose – the brain often makes associations by repetition, so the moment you use this area for things like fun, it might be harder to keep it a dedicated work space.
Last but not least, make it as hard as possible for you to get sucked into these, well, Time-Sucks.
You can try working in a different room as your phone or locking your phone inside some safe – you'll have to keep on unlocking the safe, so it makes you less likely to want to pick up your phone unless it's for good reason.
There are a lot of different ways to inconvenience yourself, so I encourage you to be creative. Do what works for you, my friend.
free gift: 12 tactics to ditch distractions for good
If you want to take your daily productivity to the next level, here's a free printable PDF guide of 12 Easy Tactics to Ditch Distractions for Good. Consider it my gift to help you elevate your success, sunshine. 😉
Inside the guide are 12 different action steps, cool tools, free apps, and more that you can use to set yourself up in a distraction-free environment. Consider them practical applications based on the principles in this blog post right here.
Most tactics are implementable as early as today, so you can eliminate all the most common distractions in your life and work right away.
Grab the free guide below!
Eliminate overwhelm, be more productive
We're all out here trying to be more productive. Did this post on distractions and how they really affect us make you realize any changes you want to implement in your life?
Also, check out more posts about productivity on my blog. Here are some recommendations to get you started.