3 Tips for Staying Focused in a Sea of Distraction

As a busy business owner, you’ve got a tremendous amount of stuff going on at any given moment. I get you. I feel your pain because I know what it’s like to have an endless stream of employees, clients, emails, phone calls, Instant Messages, Twitter updates, Facebook statuses, etc. barraging you while you’re trying to get some work done.


It feels like the world is bashing you over the head with a brick and it’s nearly impossible to stay focused amid the noise and endless chain of disruptions. No amount of coffee in the world can help you. Believe me, I’ve tried, but the sad truth is that you have to learn how to train your brain to stay focused.


How your brain responds to distractions

Distractions are a sign that something in your environment has changed. Maybe it’s a flashing light on your computer monitor or your phone is making noise. Whatever it is, a distraction is an alert to your brain that says, “Hey! Look over here! You gotta check this out!” Our brain’s reaction to distraction is almost impossible to stop. It’s automatic.


So, we wind up multitasking. While multitasking is sometimes necessary, which makes it an important skill, it’s also got a downside. It makes us a little bit stupid. When we multitask, we’re not doing any of the tasks particularly well–we forget things, we make mistakes, we miss subtleties.


Add to that the fact that distractions actually feel good, and we’re up against it big time. Our brain’s reward center lights up when we multitask because we love doing many things at once. Focusing on one task is hard! And, as it turns out, as with many things in life, stuff that feels good and comes easily is actually not so great.


What are we supposed to do, then?


Create chunks of distraction-free time throughout the day

Maybe the goal shouldn’t be to constantly be in “the zone” all day long. It’s impossible to be so focused on what you’re doing that the world drops away and you become one with your project for an entire day.


However, you can create chunks of distraction-free time throughout the day, and it can make a huge difference in your productivity.


Here’s how:


  • Tackle the hard stuff first: This is not how most of us attack the day, is it?  We tend to handle the small stuff first. We check emails, do a little paperwork, whatever that little picky task is that we want to get out of the way, that’s what we do first. Try not doing that. As easy and brainless as they seem, they chip away at our mental energy, leaving us depleted and more open to distraction by the time we get to the stuff that’s hard for us. So save the small tasks for after you’ve worn yourself out on the big stuff. Makes sense, right? It’s a biggie. Give it a whirl.


  • Find your sweet spot: Pay attention to when you do your best thinking. Some people focus best first thing in the morning, others on afternoon walks or even in the shower! Ask around and you’ll find that for many people, their strongest focus time is not when they’re at work. Don’t feel guilty about it. It’s normal. Instead, pay attention to whatever your best time is and try to set it aside for tackling the big projects on your plate.


  • Practice not multitasking: Have you ever sat down to read something and had to read it many times over because while you were reading you were thinking about something else? There goes your multitasking brain again!  You’ve got to train it to stop wandering in many different directions, so just like when you train your body during a workout, you have to train your brain to maintain strong focus. Try to set aside time each day to exercise your focus muscles. Choose one task and only one to focus on. Make it a fun one like reading a book or doing a crossword puzzle. Start for small chunks of about ten minutes at a time and work up to longer periods. If your mind wanders off, pull it back. Keep the pressure on and eventually, you won’t have to keep reigning yourself in.


Hopefully with these tips, you’ll be on your way to Focusville! Now, how many times did you check your email while you were reading this article? Be honest…


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