Habits For Better Concentration

Say you’ve sat down at your desk and prepared to write that article, or essay, or work on that important presentation that you need to give. You’ve got your cup of coffee and are ready to begin typing when your phone goes off. Someone messaged you about drinks later tonight. Since your phone is already in your hand, you scroll through Instagram a bit and maybe watch a couple of YouTube videos. Next thing you know, almost an hour has passed and you haven’t made any progress on your important task.

Does this sound familiar?

On average, we get interrupted every 11 minutes and it takes us roughly 25 minutes to get refocused on what we were doing, according to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine.

It seems difficult, more than ever before, to devote complete focus to a task without constantly being interrupted or distracted by something (like that snack drawer). So how then, do we cultivate focus and create meaningful work when we’re constantly surrounded by distractions?

Here are five simple ideas to help you regain focus.

1. Set clear expectations.

The most important part of cultivating focus is being clear on what your priority is and what is essential. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown talks about the importance of discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so you can make the highest possible contribution towards your goals. Jot down the three main tasks you need to accomplish today and estimate how much time each one will take. This will allow you to have a clear understanding of what your focus is for the next few hours and it will be easier to say “no, thank you” to distractions, once you have that time dedicated to something more concrete.

2. Set boundaries with your notifications. 

It’s very easy to be distracted by the task at hand if notifications are constantly going off on your phone or in your inbox. Knowing this, it’s healthy to set boundaries between you and your notifications and dedicate a certain number of “check-in” time periods throughout the day.

In his YouTube documentary, BOOKSTORES: How To Read More Books In The Golden Age of Content, Max Joseph interviews Eric Barker, author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree about how he manages to read as much as he does. 

He explains “On my phone, I don’t have Facebook, I don’t have Twitter, I don’t have email. I’ve redirected my instinct to check social media towards the Kindle app. I give myself three checks a day unless there’s an explicit reason where I know an important email is coming in. Every time I feel that urge to check-in, I pause and ask myself ‘is there a good reason for this’ and if not, I redirect that towards reading a book.”

You can take a page from Barker’s book and apply this practice into your own life to help you minimize distractions and create impactful work.

3. Utilize browser tools. 

There are so many great browser plugins that you can install and block certain websites while you’re in a time of deep focus. StayFocusd, Limit, and Pause are great options that you can make use of and redirect that urge to browse into actually crossing items off of your to-do list.

4. Find a focus playlist. 

There are so many great playlists on Spotify already curated for deep-focus work, like this one and this one. Throw on your headphones, press play, and sink into some mellow sounds to inspire your focus session.

5. Take a walk or stretch. 

This may sound counterintuitive to everything mentioned above, but sometimes, you need to get up from your desk and clear your head before you can devote more time to deep focus work. Something as simple as taking a quick walk around the block, sans phone, or doing a few stretches can do wonders for your mind.

Cultivating focus when you’re surrounded by distractions is simply an exercise of redirecting that time into something productive and meaningful—here’s to building that habit.


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Vanda Frak is a nationally-published writer and storyteller living near Toronto, Canada with her husband and their corgi pup, Bandit. Her hope is to empower readers to fill their lives from the inside out and live intentionally, simply, and well. When she's not writing, she's likely with her nose in a book, a cup of coffee always within reach. You can connect with her on Instagram here, and read her blog here.