How I’m staying focused and minimizing distractions
5 min read

How I’m staying focused and minimizing distractions

How I’m staying focused and minimizing distractions
Photo by Kyran Aldworth / Unsplash

I used to think that focus was a finite, binary state — one was either focused and remained focused, or one was not focused.

What I’m learning is that focus is actually a rubber band, and there are times when you’re able to easily focus on the things you need to with little to no distraction.

Lately, I’ll admit — I haven’t been the most focused. I have broad goals for both myself and the business that I’m making very clear progress towards, but I’ve noticed that when I sit down at my computer to do pretty much anything, my mind instantly wanders.

If I’m doing something particularly stimulating (like writing an essay or analyzing a set of data), I’ll have a million ideas and triggers that pull me out of my work and encourage me to feed my curiosity. Next thing I know, I’m opening a new tab or reaching for my phone and I’m off.

Once I’ve left the tab or window I’m in, it’s anyone’s guess how long before I get back to the task at hand. And it’s constant.

All of this points to adjusting my original strategy. These are the things I'm doing to get focused, stay focused, and minimize distractions.

How I'm doing the thing

Quick disclaimer: if you’re struggling with ADD/ADHD, executive dysfunction, or something similar, this list might feel predictable. Hopefully there’s still something in here that helps (or perhaps even works!).

Switching up my meditation style.

I’ve been consistently meditating for almost 4 years now. When I sprained my foot two months ago, I switched my daily meditation practice to a different style of meditation. I wanted to focus my intention on healing my body, so I paused on my japa-style meditation (a mala, mantra, and mudra) and picked up the Headspace app instead.

Ironically, I think this contributed to my waning focus — even though it helped me calm down my fears about healing my foot.

Change my work space.

When I want to work on something I really care about, I don’t sit at my workspace in the living room. I’ll sit at the desk in my bedroom or buy a day pass at the local co-working space instead. There’s something about being in a different place that allows me to tune everything out (probably because I’m not too comfortable anymore).

Create a ritual for the important habits.

I’ve always been a huge believer in routines, rituals, and habits. I’m even more of a fan of stringing together activities to build momentum. When I really don’t feel like writing or doing something important, I’ll create a ritual out of the process and try to make it feel like I’m casting a spell.

I’ll light candles, play music that inspires me, open the window to let the breeze in, make tea, and set a timer. By the time I sit down to write, the ritual has already inspired me to make my magic. It becomes Pavlovian at some point. When I make tea, I now expect to be creative.

Keep a clean work space.

What is it about a clear desk that just feels like opportunity? I’ve been resolving to keep my desk as uncluttered as possible. It’s good for my creativity, but it’s also good for my focus.

Use a Pomodoro timer.

I’ve always underestimated the power of a Pomodoro timer. Some tiny little device that helps keep me aware that I only have so much time to complete a task. The premise is simple: set a timer for the amount of time you'll work, and set a timer for the break you'll take.

Research says the best splits are somewhere between 30 minutes on/10 minutes off and 45 minutes on/15 minutes off. Sometimes I'll use study-with-me videos on YouTube, and other times I'll use a good old fashioned timer.

Take care of the body and spirit.

It might go without saying, but usually the first signs of me losing focus are due to how I’m taking care of myself.

How am I starting my day? Have I been working out enough? What am I eating? Did eating that make me feel good? Have I been taking my vitamins? What am I feeling right now? Am I holding on to anything that could be creating mental blockers for myself? When was the last time I journaled? How about been creative without expectation?

If I’ve checked all the boxes in nourishing my body and spirit, then I can turn to more practical matters.

Play chill beats to study and relax to.

Normally I love silence, but with a busy mind, music is an excellent focus agent. The music can be whatever helps you focus, but for me, I like things that don’t have vocals or are in languages I’m not perfectly fluent in.

My favorite playlists on Spotify right now are Indian Chill, lofi beats, Lo-Fi Cafe, Jazz for Autumn, Peaceful Piano, and of course — ChilledCow’s Lofi Girl.

Use a paper planner.

I love computers, but they’re distracting af. Engineers and designers are paid big bucks to figure out how to keep you as locked in as possible. When I start my day, I don’t start it with a digital planner (for context, I’ve been using paper planners my entire working life).

Google Calendar is my source of truth for what’s happening in the day and when I need to time block out important work. But my paper planner is free from the various pop-ups, notifications, and opportunities for me to distract myself.

Where I'm slipping up is not actually using it 🙃. I need to start and end my days with it, physically writing out all of the ideas, tasks, and things that need to happen. It will unburden my mind and help me get centered on what my day should look like.

Plan for next week on Fridays rather than Sunday night.

I get the Sunday Scaries. It comes and goes — there are months where I never feel the anxiety the night before Monday, and then there are times where I'm hyper-ventilating and I'm pretty sure I can feel my heartbeat in my ears.

My therapist recommended that I plan on Fridays while I'm winding down instead of triggering my anxiety every Sunday afternoon. I'll let you know how it goes.

My overall strategy

That's my list. Because I'm a strategist at my core, my strategic priorities to improve my focus are to:

  • Reduce anxiety by re-instating certain boundaries
  • Introduce tools to re-train my brain to focus while working
  • Leverage my discipline when it comes to routines and rituals

So far, I've already seen an improvement. There's a few things I still need to commit to (getting back on my workout regimen, HEL-LO) but it's all in stride and never all at once.

What did I miss? What are your hacks for focus?