It’s a common lament that there aren’t enough hours in the day. But we all get 24 hours. So why is it that some people achieve much more than average? The simple answer is distractions. Most of us are battling with (and sometimes losing to) the myriad of distractions surrounding us. As we attempt to complete tasks, our process may be interrupted by any number of the following distractions: internal thoughts and worries, notifications, phone calls, people, pets, sounds and other tasks.
1. Remove (or minimise) digital distractions
Studies have shown that people pick up their phones an average of 58 times a day and typically spend 3 hours on their phones daily. As discussed in this Guardian piece, spending 2 hours 20 mins a day on your phone, equates to 35 full days a year. Phones, smart watches etc are huge distractions so it’s a good idea to either turn notifications off or on silent and put your device out of reach. Another option is putting your phone on aeroplane mode, while you’re completing important tasks. We often need our computers to work but we can still remove digital distraction from them, for example turn email notifications off while focussing on important tasks.
2. Have a singular focus.
Studies have shown that multitasking is not an efficient way to approach tasks because it takes much longer than we think it does for our brains to switch between tasks. As highlighted in this research, doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity.
Commit to focussing on one specific, priority task at a time. The key is to dedicate an uninterrupted block of time to each task, rather than moving between tasks.
3. Daily three
This hack is so simple it would be easy to overlook its helpfulness for creating focus and clarity. Every day identify and write down the three most vital tasks you want to achieve for the day and do them. Importantly you need at least one of these tasks to be moving you in the direction of a big longer-term goal you have. Don’t get caught up only responding to the most urgent tasks, make sure you’re also prioritising the tasks that matter the most to you.
4. Work in productive bursts
We shouldn’t be attempting tasks for hours on end without a break. Shorter focused time spent on a task followed by an effective break has proven to increase our productivity. A good method for achieving this is following the “52 and 17 rule” which we wrote about here. Essentially, you apply deep focus to a necessary task for 52 minutes and then give yourself a 17 min break in which you might exercise, relax or eat something. The downtime replenishes your focus and fuels your motivation, creativity and productivity. Others might prefer the Pomodoro Technique which is the same principle but in shorter bursts with 25-minute stretches of focused work broken by five-minute breaks.
5. Take effective breaks
Sitting at your desk trying to work and being distracted and unproductive is a huge waste of time that will only leave you feeling guilty and stressed. After achieving bursts of focused work you need to give yourself little breaks such as: making a coffee, going for a walk, stretching, meditating, reading, tidying up or having a short nap. You’ll be far more productive and focused if you don’t try and sit at your desk non stop for many hours.
Longer breaks in the form of holidays or staycations are also vital. Try to plan and book in when you’ll take your annual leave rather than waiting till you feel burnt out. Think about how motivated you’ll be to get work done knowing you have a tropical island holiday coming up couple of weeks.
6. Create better systems and habits
If you don’t have appropriate systems in place then you won’t manage to achieve your goals. James Clear, bestselling author of the motivating Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones put it this way, “you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” His book identifies the incredible difference that making small adjustments to our habits can have over time (both good and bad). Consider how you can improve your habits and systems for greater success. As Clear puts it “success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”
7. Make healthy choices
We all know this but sometimes we need a little reminder that a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep are the building blocks for success. If you look after these three pillars, then your ability to achieve your goals skyrockets.