Saturday, September 19, 2009

6 Ways to Stay Focused while Distracted

How often do you find yourself wanting to get some work done, but struggle during that first step of getting into work-mode. It's like fighting against gravity, isn't it? When I find myself in this position, I find that the best way for me to be productive is to become focused while distracted.

This may not make any sense to you (or maybe it does), but I find the best way for me to stay focused is to work while things are happening around me. These distractions are enough to keep my mind from falling asleep, yet not disruptive to the point where i lose concentration. The key is to only use distractions that you know won't pull your attention away from your task at hand.

1. warm up
Just like those sketches above, you should start with a quick warm-up , whether that be sketching, reading, meditating, writing, whatever it is. This will set your mind up for work-mode and is much easier to sink into the heavier tasks from this position.

2. movies and television

You may be like me and enjoy working while your TV is on. I've tried this a bunch of times to figure out what works best for me to stay focused. As it turns out, light comedies such as The Office are perfect for me. Having the noise and comedic banter in the background fills the silence, and may even induce a chuckle while you work. This is especially helpful if you're watching a familiar movie or tv show which you have seen countless times before. This reduces the number of surprises that will fight for your attention.

3. Instrumental music

I have always enjoyed listening to music while drawing. The only problem with this is that a lot of music has lyrics. You might find that the lyrics in music will tend to make you sing along. For me, I find this very distracting. So instead, i listen to instrumental music. Humming along is a lot easier than trying to remember lyrics.

4. Talk radio

If you do in fact find yourself humming along with the music from #2, then perhaps listening to talk radio will be more helpful. With talk radio i usually notice i am able to pay attention to the radio and pick up key points from the host, without it totally destroying my focus. And if you really get into the groove, you will find that you completely zone out the radio altogether and it all simply becomes background noise.

5. Work in public

While a library may work for some, it may be way too quiet for others. This is why a cafe is the best substitute. There is enough foot traffic nearby to look up from your work for a quick break and people watch for a minute or two, yet it's usually quiet enough to get some work done as well. This works well with any other suggestion from the above, and sometimes you'll find that the change of scenery is quite refreshing than your usual workspace.

6. MSN -- if you must use it, must be on silent

I am one of those people who keeps their MSN on 24/7. I dont know why I do this. As many people on my list will attest, I sometimes will message them: "Hey, what's up", only to disappear for 3-4 hours. Now they know why. With MSN you can treat it like a 5 minute reward after 90 minutes of hard work. Come back to it to check your msgs if you find you're losing focus, answer a few people, and then get back to work feeling refreshed. The important thing is to keep your status on Busy so that the sounds from alerts and messages don't distract you prematurely (or turn off sounds altogether). This goes for all other instant messengers, twitter, facebook, linkedin and email.

I hope this lends some insight into how I attempt to stay focused. Let me know what works for you, and share your tactics in the comments below! Stay tuned for more goodies, thanks all.

1 comment:

kdsh7 said...

agree with everything here except for the TV - I find that a little 'too' distracting for most things!

The MSN thing is really important, I can probably say quitting MSN 8 years ago was probably the most important decision I made career wise.

As for the treat thing, I like to use something called the (10+2)*5 productivity hack. You focus and work hard for 10 minutes, then force yourself to take a 2 minute break. You do this 5 times in an hour, and you find that in 1 hour you've done 50 minutes of serious work. It's done wonders for me.