From the smartphones in front of us to the infinite amount of content at the tip of our fingers, there is so much to be distracted from in this modern day.
In America alone, 71% of people check their phone within the first 10 minutes of waking up, and to make matter worse, we’re spending about 7 hours a day on our screens.
It’s no wonder we’re so distracted.
Shifts in society such as the rise of remote work and the multi-year pandemic keeping many people indoors are definitely some reasons why we’re on our screens longer, and more susceptible to being distracted.
But research shows that our brains simply aren’t wired to stay locked in for long, uninterrupted periods of time.
Tips on how to be less distracted
With all the reasons mentioned above, it can be easy to get distracted.
Besides being hard-wired to be distracted, our attention spans are just not what they used to be. While we can train our brains to pay attention, there are also some quick tips we can consider to become less distracted.
1. Start the day off right
For many people, checking their smartphones first thing in the morning is so normal, that they don’t even realize they’re doing it. While this simple act may seem innocent, it is actually doing more harm to how we start the day, reducing our ability to prioritize.
As the saying goes, ‘how you start the day will define the day.’
Instead of immediately going to your phone, get up, drink a glass of water, and do a mini exercise first thing. It does not need to be extreme, but the point is to get your blood flowing and simply boost energy levels. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, morning exercises can improve attention and decision-making.
The reason to start off our day right is due to the limits of our self-control. Willpower, after all, is a finite resource that depletes over time. Much like a muscle that wears down from over-exertion, our brain is much the same in self-control mode.
Based on research from the University of Nottingham and the National Institute of Education in Singapore, they discovered that there was a significant effect of ego depletion on self-control task performance as time went on. We begin to perceive things as more difficult and feel more fatigue, and as such, are less inclined to stay focused.
This gives us all the more reason to start the day right, letting ourselves be as productive as we can from the early wake.
2. Design your environment
Our environment shapes who we become.
This isn’t just applicable from a macro-social scale, but even how a room we choose to work in is set up can influence our behaviors.
There are cues everywhere we sit, stand, and sleep. The objects in our surroundings trigger feelings and emotions, whether we are conscious of them or not. This is one of the reasons why it is highly advised to not work from your bed, let alone your bedroom.
A cluttered workspace can easily distract and deter you from remaining focused.
This is why it’s important to clear out anything that may be tempting in your workspace. Whether it’s keeping your phone out of the room to avoid any temptations of notifications, or keeping a fresh bottle of water nearby so you don’t interrupt your workflow by leaving the room to stay hydrated, learn to design your environment purposely so that you give yourself the highest chance of staying focused.
3. Keep it short for now
As mentioned above, new research indicates that our brain perceives the world in bursts of focused attention, instead of streams of continuous consciousness.
Even when we’re concentrating on something, our brains are zooming out, scanning what’s around us through our other senses, and coming back into focus.
With this in mind, the easiest way to get distracted is by locking ourselves into a given task for long periods of time. Not only does this make the task even more dreadful to do, but it can also put a load strain on our cognitive load and keep us from doing the task attentively.
So, when tackling a given task, it’s best to keep it relatively short — setting a designated time frame for how long you’ll work on that until taking that next break. This helps to prevent overwork and burnout but also helps to keep you focused when it matters. The effectiveness of this method is seen in the popular Pomodoro technique, where you spend just 25 minutes on a given task, take a five-minute break, and go at it again for another 25-minute round. While for some people, twenty-five minutes might seem too short to complete certain tasks, the amount of focused attention you’ll have in that period of time will allow you to be far more productive than working on something for hours on end.
4. Learn to meditate
Meditation helps to take a break from whatever you’re doing and simply refresh.
Research from the Columbia University Medical Center indicates that meditating can affect the structure of the brain. Not only does it help to reduce stress, but it also helps to improve memory and attention as well.
The power of meditation is further supported in a study done by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni. The brain-imaging from the research found that the act of meditating can not only affect brain patterns, it also improves mental focus, thereby boosting cognitive performance.
5. Get more sleep
It goes without saying that sleep is absolutely important.
We’ve mentioned in many other articles how sleep has numerous benefits, from maintaining good health to being able to make better decisions. Sleep, after all, refreshes the mind and without a clear mind, everything that you do throughout the day functions at a lower, slower rate.
When it comes to learning and memory, we can see them functioning in three ways: acquisition, consolidation, and recall. The first refers to the input of new information into the brain, the second is the process of storing, and the third is the ability to access said information easily.
Lacking good, deep sleep puts a dent in any of the three processes above. The neurons in our brain cannot fire optimally and coordinate properly. This leads us to be unable to accurately assess a situation and over time, our judgment becomes impaired.
6. Reward yourself
Doing something without reward can make the task at hand feel meaningless.
Celebrating wins — no matter how small — helps to get you to focus on getting it done. It serves as an additional motivator for taking action and allows you to think about the long-term reward that waits at the end of the tunnel.
There is power to delaying gratification. Learning to leverage this knowledge can help remind you that whatever you’re doing has something to gain once completed. Whether its something as simple as giving yourself 30 minutes of relax time to watch some YouTube videos or having a cheat day to eat whatever you want at the end of the week, learning to reward yourself is crucial in motivating yourself to focus and not get distracted.
Make the right decisions
While knowing all of the tips above is useful, at the end of the day, they all boil down to one thing: making the right decision.
Every decision we make determines the next outcome that comes thereafter, no matter how big or small the decision is.
With so many distractions trying to influence you, this is why it’s so important to learn more about the brain and how we think, to make better decisions.