How to overcome distractions and focus on deep work
Feb 04, 2022
18 min read

How many times do you get distracted each day? Once you have a rough estimate in mind, take that number and multiply by 25. The figure that you arrive at is roughly the amount of time that you lose each day as you are not concentrating. 

Stunned? Multiple research studies have confirmed that it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully recover focus following a distraction. This means that about 25 minutes are lost every time we are distracted.

Considering the fact that we get distracted multiple times each day, we lose plenty of hours and it takes a long time to get back to where we left off. This article looks at how to improve your focus and be more productive in your workplace despite the myriad distractions that one is confronted with on an everyday basis.

Ability to focus

You might have realized now why you have been unable to get the most of yourself even after spending long hours to get a task finished. The ability to do work, focus on work, and work effectively is clearly not only dependent on the hours spent on the task, but also on how well you maintain focus, overcome distractions and manage your time effectively.

There are certain techniques that enhance your ability to focus and perform better at any given time. Keep at it, practise hard and these strategies are bound to help you in the long run.

Deep work method

The importance of cognitive work cannot be stressed enough. This is the kind of work where you are consciously involved in the intellectual activity that actually defines your work.

Incorporating cognitive work and deep work in your daily schedule is a sure shot way of increasing productivity everyday. If you are new to deep work and wondering “what is deep work?“, you might be interested in our post that demystifies the concept.

The deep work method can be employed by each and every individual irrespective of their chosen stream of work. The beauty of deep work lies in the fact that it can not only be employed by anyone and everyone, but also that there are no known limits to what can be achieved using deep work.

Distractions affect productivity

It is no rocket science that distractions affect productivity for everyone. A growing body of research, however, is attempting to answer how exactly distractions affect productivity.

While employers expect their employees to take 43 minutes of break per day and employees estimate their breaks to be 42 minutes per day, the reality is far from this. A 2021 research by Solitaired revealed that American workers take 2.7 hours of break everyday.

In a 40 hour work week, 2.7 hours of break per day amounts to 13.5 hours of break every week. This means that more than one third of working hours are lost to breaks.

Distractions are everywhere. Broadly classified as external and internal distractions, they all affect the way we work. Irrespective of the source of the distraction, be it internal or external, they have a detrimental effect. 

In the introduction to this article, we looked at how distractions affect the brain. The 23 minutes and 15 seconds that we lose for each distraction can be vividly visualized with this example. We are essentially playing tennis with our cognitive capabilities, trying to change directions of our focus in a moment’s notice. While a tennis ball can achieve this and can change directions without much effort as it is volleyed back and forth, our brain isn’t wired that way. It takes considerable time and effort to actually switch from one task to another.

The effects of distractions at work can be termed as nothing short of disastrous. Distractions in the workplace can lead to employees committing twice as many errors as usual. Office distractions and interruptions also lead to anxiety in the workplace, thereby affecting the mental health of the workers.

Distractions and disturbances, however, aren’t restricted to working from office spaces alone. Remote work or working from home come with their own set of distractions which will have to be conquered in order to work efficiently. If you maintain a work from home discipline, then you will be able to gain from it.

Types of distractions

Distractions come in all shapes and sizes, from the small beep of a notification to the presence of a noisy coworker. Like we mentioned earlier, external and internal are the two broad types of distractions. Even though it is impossible to draw out an exhaustive list of distractions, here is a typical set of distraction examples that occur in a workplace.

A noisy coworker or a colleague who often stops by for conversations is an example of an external distraction that one can easily identify with. Attending meetings where one’s presence is not required is also another popular example. What you see could well be a distraction as well as visual distractions are another type of externally driven distractions.

Distractions created by our innate nature contribute to the bulk of internal distractions. Our never ending urge to keep fidgeting with our phones or scrolling through our smartphones are typical examples of internal distractions while at work. Technology has made many things easy for us, but it has also introduced a horde of new distractions at work.

Facts about distractions

The unprecedented growth in technology and the boom in social media has increased the wide variety of ways in which we can be distracted. Distraction statistics provides numbers and facts about distractions and the time that an average individual spends on each of these various distractions.


Social media distraction statistics

If we are to glance through social media distraction statistics, then we will be confronted with some glaring numbers. In 2012, people were spending 1 hour each day on social media. Fast forward 10 years and you have people spending an average of 2 hours and 25 minutes every day on social media. Apart from the fact that it is nearly a two and a half time jump on the time spent on social media, it also implies that individuals are spending more and more of their waking hours socializing online.

While Facebook still remains the undisputed champion as people spend nearly 40 minutes each day on the social media platform, the average time spent on Instagram isn’t far behind at nearly 30 minutes a day.

Technology distraction statistics

If you look at the technology distraction statistics, then you will note that it includes the average time spent on mobile phones, the average time spent playing video games and even the average time spent watching TV as well. While video games and TV have been around for a considerable amount of time, the average time spent on YouTube now towers over all of these. With over 2 billion monthly active users spending an average of over 11 minutes each day, they together watch over five billion videos daily amounting to 1 billion hours of video everyday. That’s a lot of time lost collectively each day. 


Homework

Working from home brings with it its own set of external distractions. Interruptions from family members, outside noises, visitors, and the need to take care of children and pets all contribute to time lost while working from home. Add to it the time spent on household chores during work hours, and the average time spent by an individual doing work for the home becomes significantly higher.

Dealing with distractions

By this point, you must have realized that in order to improve focus at work, one must start dealing with distractions in a better way in order to regain lost time and spend it more efficiently. If you were looking at strategies on how you could increase concentration at work, then you should start by dealing with distractions – either remove them completely or avoid at least the unnecessary ones.

Even though it might be impossible to cut down all distractions overnight, you have to start somewhere. With routine practice and consistency you will be able to master these techniques and tips, and apply them to suit your needs.

For telecommuters, it is important to build your own workspace at home and set out specific work hours. In addition to this it is also necessary to inform all the household members and ask for their cooperation during your working hours.

In our introductory article to deep work, we had mentioned a number of steps to help you improve your concentration and employ deep work techniques. These include priming your environment so that it is always ready for you to focus and work, choosing the deep work philosophy that best matches your requirements, building a ritual around your deep work routine so that you can effortlessly enhance your focus and concentration, and even performing a grand gesture if necessary. All these methods are effective ways to minimize distractions and work better in your available time and space.

Digital Minimalism

American author Cal Newport first coined the concept of deep work in 2012 in a blog post. An associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, he further researched on the subject and expanded on the idea in his best selling book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World that was first published in 2016.

Following the success of this book, Newport further explored the idea and identified the role that distractions play as an enemy to deep work. By reading extensively on the subject and assimilating a wealth of information from studies and research, Newport culled out data for his next book. This book, titled Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, was first published in 2019 and turned out to be another bestseller.

The “noisy world” that Newport refers to in his title obviously corresponds to the unlimited distractions that human beings are confronted with in a variety of ways in every environment. This might be music to your ears as studying the contents of this book end to end and implementing it will allow you to master the distractions that affect your work day.

In Digital Minimalism, Newport not only identifies that we as individuals are caught in the crosshairs of the internet giants ruling today’s world, but also highlights the growing risks of being exposed to increased screen time. Apart from providing tips and hacks to reduce social media usage, the book also highlights the importance of solitude and the lack of the same since the advent of social media.

Use apps, don’t let them use you

Be it our handheld smartphone devices or the desktop and laptops we work on, notifications are the primary reason we start to lose focus. These beeps and popups break into our solitude and enhanced state of concentration, making us divert our attention often towards trivialities. 

It must be remembered that any application that provides notifications will also be equipped with settings to control the same. By making use of these settings, it is possible to minimize notifications to a bare minimum. Having notifications for only what is absolutely necessary is a good first step to steer clear of distractions.

Among the more interesting ideas in Newport’s book is the recommendation to stay away from all forms of communications and social media for a 30 day period. Newport suggests using this break to build a protocol on how to use the various apps and websites that dictate our lives. He also adds that it might be a good idea to learn a leisure activity that one might practice in the time that has been created by limiting usage of technology. As a result of this, one not only has a framework on how to use the required apps when returning to them, but also other analogue activities to perform in the freed up time.

Even though the 30 day break might sound a bit extreme for starters, it is bound to be beneficial if you learn how to do it properly. If it still seems a mountain too tall to surmount, you can begin with something small.

One of the easiest ways for getting started is probably switching off your mobile phone or placing it out of your immediate reach. If these tricks, however, do not do the job and you reach out for your smartphone or switch it on immediately, then you might want to lean on technology to solve a problem created by it in the first place.

There are plenty of apps that lock social media and that help you to stop using your phone when you are studying or working. Apart from native apps that both Apple and Google provide in their iOS and Android devices respectively, there are a slew of other apps that help achieve the same objective. 

Here are some of the best apps out there that help you block out distractions and motivate you to put your phone down:


Additionally, you can look up options online by yourself to choose the app that might best suit your needs.

If these apps can be relied upon to do the job during your smartphone usage, then there are extensions that provide similar capabilities in browsers for your laptop and desktop usage. Extensions help manage social media usage in your browser and are also very helpful if you surf a lot while working on your system.

While RescueTime, the app we just mentioned, has a browser based extension as well, StayFocusd is a free browser extension on Google Chrome that controls the amount of time you can spend on each website everyday. You might also want to check out Brave browser, which is built with speed, privacy and security in mind.

Understanding yourself

The key to defuse these weapons of mass distractions is to understand yourself thoroughly. This means that you need to know your daily routine inside out, identify routine workplace tasks and block out distractions even before they arise.

A good way of getting to know yourself better is by taking self improvement tests. The beauty of such assessments lie in the fact that they analyze every aspect of a person, regardless of whether that person is aware of it or not. Thus, they allow you to unearth both hidden gems or strengths and weed out weaknesses that have being pulling you down without you knowing about it. Effectively, they help you become the best version of yourself.

Understanding yourself will be the first key step on the path towards conquering distractions – deep work’s arch nemesis. Once you have got the better of distractions, focus, concentration and deep work will come naturally to you. And with deep work you will be able to do wonders, each and everyday.

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