Do you ever get home from a long day of work and feel like you worked for hours yet accomplished nothing?
You’re not alone. From Facebook notifications to growing email inboxes, many folks spend far more of their day than they realize distracted by tasks that aren’t a priority. The average cell phone owner touches their phone no fewer than 2,617 times every single day, and cell phone addiction in the workplace is real.
That doesn’t mean that all hope is lost unless you chuck your phone in the nearest river. Instead, follow these tips to create a workplace that’s conducive to focus instead of one that promotes distraction.
A single notification may seem harmless, even if you unlock your phone to check it. A study from the University of California Irvine shows that after switching tasks due to a notification, it takes 23 minutes to get your brain back on track. Even if you don’t follow the notification, your workflow is still disturbed at least momentarily as you look at and process the notification, and dozens of notifications each day can add up to hours of distraction. To limit interruptions, keep push notifications for non-urgent apps like social media turned off and only check them on your own when you have time.
Turning off push notifications won’t stop you from grabbing your phone without thought and taking a look at your recent messages. If you really struggle with staying off your phone during work hours, it might be wise to turn it off altogether or at least put it in airplane mode. Some people will benefit from putting their phone in an entirely different room so they can’t reach it easily. Allow yourself 5-minute breaks every hour to check your phone if you’re worried about missing something.
The Pomodoro technique was developed to help with time management and concentration. This method uses a timer to break up your work into 25-minute periods of deep focus separated by 5-minute breaks. After completing 4 of these 25-minute work periods, you then take a longer 15 to 30-minute break. You can use these breaks to check your phone. There are plenty of apps that will set a Pomodoro timer for you, and having that alarm notification is a must to make sure you’re sticking to the schedule.
Apps like the Freedom app will help you block websites that are frequent distractions and aren’t necessary to your work, such as Facebook. You can set them up to block these websites for certain periods during the day, so your computer could grant you access to social media only after 5:00 p.m., for example. The Freedom app is very affordable, and it even comes with a free trial so you can try it out before committing.
Email is as guilty a culprit to our lack of focus as social media: one study shows that people check their email 74 times per day. While email is work-related, it still distracts you from other tasks that might be more important and time-sensitive. Pick specific time slots during the day to work on your inbox, and avoid it during the rest of the day. You can even set up the Freedom app to block your inbox during work time that isn’t designated for emails.
If you work in an office, especially if you’re in a cubicle rather than a private room, your distractions might come from real-life more often than your phone. These distractions can be more difficult to fight against because you can’t control when colleagues come to your desk to ask a question or chat with you. Consider putting up a sign at your desk or on your office door that says “busy” or “work mode” during your most crucial work hours, which will kindly signal to your coworkers not to disturb you unless it’s urgent. You can also ask your supervisor for a designated “quiet space” in the office where employees can go when they need to concentrate more deeply.
While all of these tools help limit your environmental distractions, they don’t always get rid of the distractions that pop up in your mind. Practicing meditation regularly is one of the most effective ways to train your mind for periods of deep concentration and distraction avoidance. One report in Springer’s Journal of Cognitive Enhancement shows that a regular meditation practice leads to long-lasting improvements in focus and attention span. It can even help fight the effect of aging on the mind and increase workplace creativity.
Between cell phones, social media, news, advertisements, and the growing to-do list associated with modern life, the world often feels like a place of constant distraction. Do the work of setting up your environment to promote focus, but don’t forget to look inward too.