• David Strittmatter

Reduce distractions - 3 tips to increase productivity

Starve your distractions, feed your focus

Summary:

  • Less productivity implies less time left for things that you like more

  • Distraction is a major productivity killer

  • Once distracted it takes multiple minutes to be focused again

Practical advice:

  • Download a "focus app" or locate your smartphone away from you

  • Identify external factors distracting you and develop strategies to reduce their influence

  • Multitask as little as possible

Dear friend,

In the past few days, I was thinking about how I could be less distracted in what I was doing. Despite my high level of motivation, I still feel less productive than I could.


I know being productive all the time doesn’t make one happy, and you don’t need to work like a machine to get things done. Yet, less productivity implies more time needed to accomplish a task and less time left for things that you like more.


I wondered how I can become more efficient and contemplated what kills most of my time. I came to the conclusion that the most significant productivity killer is a distraction. You can adopt the best productivity methods, implement super effective routines and systems, and create a well-balanced schedule; this won’t make you productive if you're constantly distracted.


In today’s blog post, I write about the things that distract me most and what helped me to prevent those to steal my time.


Smartphones as the productivity killer number 1


I didn’t have to think long to identify my smartphone as the primary distraction. Once I touch it, no matter which app I access, it takes me at least five minutes to get my concentration back.


Five minutes doesn’t seem that long. However, these little distractions can add up to a substantial amount of time spent.


Since I’ve been facing this issue for at least two years, I’ve already thought many times about ways to curtail this distraction. What works best for me are the following measures:

  1. Put the smartphone at least a few meters away (or better: in another room)

  2. Turn it on airplane mode

  3. Use a focus app that blocks certain apps

  4. Rearrange your apps/home screen so that you cannot access distracting apps unconsciously

Currently, I’m using an app that only works on OnePlus smartphones (it’s simply called "focus"). It blocks any notifications and limits your access to apps (the selection can be easily adjusted). This app helps me a lot to stay more focused.


Another benefit of these focus apps is that you can use them too when you’re hanging out with friends so that you’re tempted to use your smartphone.


(Too much) multitasking is distracting


I think that multitasking can make sense in a lot of settings. For instance, when you’re commuting to work and listen to a podcast, or when you’re cooking your lunch and call a friend.


Nevertheless, there’re many situations in which multitasking hurts our productivity severely. For example, you switch tasks back and forth, check your mails while you’re studying, write a report while you’re in a virtual meeting, research on a topic while you’re taking part in a webinar.


It’s very important that you know how much (cognitive) attention a task requires. Most often, we underestimate the amount needed to accomplished a task most effectively. Additionally, we often complete a task not only slower but also worse; quality is usually negatively affected as well.


Thus, I decided to multitask as little as possible. Whenever possible I schedule the tasks that require the most attention at the beginning of the day and the tasks that require the least attention at the end of the (work) day so that I don’t have the feeling of being unproductive when I’m doing simple tasks individually.


Hence, I needed to learn to prioritize better more effectively to reduce the amount of distraction through multitasking. Mails and messages aren’t answered as the first thing in the morning, videos are watched in the evening, I don’t listen to podcasts while writing this blog, and I don’t listen to music when I need to work on complex tasks.


Restrict the influence of external distractions


External distractions - such as a colleague who wants to chat with you, a friend who calls you, the parcel carrier who rings your doorbell, or random ideas coming to your mind - are out of your control. You cannot prevent them from stealing your attention. However, if you identify the different factors distracting you, you can develop strategies to reduce their influence.


When I get a call while I’m focusing on a task, I usually don’t pick up the phone unless the call seems to be “unusual” (for instance, a person who I know well and who usually doesn’t call me) and very urgent (they’ve already tried to message me). Of course, I call back once I take a break or done with the task, but I protect my time from “usual” calls as much as I can since the can completely destroy my workflow.


When a colleague wants to chat, I try to respond as friendly as possible and propose to have a coffee chat once I’ve got a break, but I try to get back the task as fast as possible.


In order to manage a prolific flow of thoughts, I make use of a simple list or Google Keep note. If my smartphone is banned from the task at hand, I write down ideas on paper and save them later digitally; if it’s not completely banned, I use the Google Keep app to write my thoughts down really quick and get back to the task.

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