The rise of social media and the internet has successfully connected the world together. As we continue to move into a digital age, we are met with challenges that would not have been apparent before the rise of the internet. One such challenge is living in a world when we can be contacted 24/7. It can sometimes be difficult to keep productive and focused in a world where there is no off button. So, with frequent distractions, how can we maintain focus and concentration?
- Distractions can stop us from reaching our work and personal goals
- Minimising distractions can allow for a deeper focus
- Small changes to your daily habits can increase concentration and focus
Checking your social media feed or answering those emails may be important and productive but can also cause us to neglect tasks that we want to complete and can ruin the flow of projects or routines we are in the midst of. Being distracted can affect you when working, studying or even when doing exercise. So how can we make sure that we are achieving what we want to achieve without being distracted?
The Importance of focus
Today, being able to focus could be considered a competitive advantage. Often our most productive moments come when we are deeply focused on something, and if you are constantly distracted you can never get into a state of flow.
If you are having trouble paying attention or finding it hard to concentrate, it may be that distractions are holding you back from achieving success. In a study by the New York research firm BASEX, they found that a 30-second interruption could take a worker over 20 minutes to get back into the flow of their work. Employees reported over 2 hours worth of lost time due to constant interruptions and recovery time – a productivity loss of 28%.
What can we do to minimise distractions and interruptions?
Turn off notifications and turn on distraction-free mode
When you’re in the middle of an exercise routine having a message notification may not seem like the end of the world yet it could be more detrimental than you think. The notification stops your rhythm and draws your attention elsewhere, meaning that when you return to your routine, you may have lost your focus. The same would be true if you check a notification when you are working or studying.
By avoiding the interruption of a notification, we can continue to focus and concentrate on what we are doing. To do this, look to building positive habits so that you no longer feel the need to reach for your phone and answer every notification as soon as it goes off – turning on your distraction-free mode when you need it.
Close what you are not using
Most of us use computers at least once each day, whether it be for the entire day or just a few hours. Instant messaging, emails, websites, and especially social media, are prone to making you lose your focus. If you have a page open and you see something that grabs your attention, you are more likely to stay on that page rather than get to the work you needed to do. Although these things can be enjoyable, make sure to schedule them and not let leisure time run into your work time.
Interactions with other people
Interactions with other people can increase how often you interrupt yourself. Research on the topic found that when people experienced external interruptions, in the following hour the incidence of self-interruptions significantly increased. Furthermore, in open office layouts more people self-interrupted. This suggests that the working environment may influence both external interruptions and self-interruptions which has implications when concentrated work is required.
A quiet environment, where you are less likely to be interrupted or interact with other people, would help maintain focus and concentration.
How else can we develop and maintain focus?
The Five More Rule
This is a simple, yet effective, way of developing your focus. Simply, whenever you feel like quitting or moving onto something else because you are frustrated, take a deep breath and just do 5 more: 5 more minutes, 5 more pages, 5 more exercises. This will extend your focus as it helps you to push yourself beyond the point of frustration and build mental fortitude. Hence, it doubles as a form of training and as a way of getting more accomplished. This may be harder than it sounds so give it a try and document your progress!
The power of music
Many people listen to music while they study or perform tasks that require focused attention. Music or background music has been linked to changes in our attention states and is thought to make us more focused. A study by Luca Loss and Karina J. Linnell in the Psychological Research journal explored the effects of background music on forty students. The study found that the background music enhanced focus by decreasing ‘mind-wandering states’ but did not affect external distraction states. It showed that by listening to preferred background music, attention for low-demanding sustained-attention tasks can be enhanced.
Distractions are a part of our everyday lives and asking yourself to cut them out completely might be unrealistic. To minimise distractions, start small and gradually cut them out. At the same time look to developing ways to actively improve focus and concentration.
Dabbish, Laura., Mark, Gloria, and Gonzalez, Victor. “Why Do I Keep Interrupting Myself?: Environment, Habit, and Self-Interruption.” (2011). https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/Home_page/Publications_files/CHI%202011%20Self-interruption.pdf.
Kiss, Luca, and Linnell, J. Karina. “The effect of preferred background music on task-focus in sustained attention.” Psychological Research. (2020). doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01400-6.
Patel, Deep. “7 Proven Strategies for Overcoming Distractions.” (2018). https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/324560.
Schrager, S., & Sadowski, E. Getting More Done: Strategies to Increase Scholarly Productivity. Journal of graduate medical education, 8.1 (2016): 10–13. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-15-00165.1.
Griffey, Harriet. “The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world.” Train your brain Health & wellbeing. (2018). https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/14/the-lost-art-of-concentration-being-distracted-in-a-digital-world.