How to Focus: Why Being Aware of Distractions Can Help You

Productivity

It’s a darn noisy world.

Smartphones. Social media. 24 hour news. Email. Distractions lurk in every corner. No wonder there is plenty of literature and a litany of advice on how to focus, focus, focus. Now.

But, is there an upside to distractions? Can allowing your mind to wander, just a little bit, boost your creativity and productivity? Can you become a better worker by focusing on your major distractions?

Here are some interesting reasons why distraction can indeed be more helpful than you think:

Background din promotes creativity

A study found that working in an environment infused with ambient noise could increase creativity. Controlled commotion forces the brain to think less in a linear pattern and to instead shift to abstract thinking, which is the realm of creativity.  Allowing your mind to wander away from the work at hand provides the brain with some ‘thinking space.’ This temporary shift of focus does in fact offer a creative window of opportunity within which you can think up new ideas.

Monitor your distraction pattern and sources

You do not have to work from a noisy coffee shop to get your creativity juices flowing. In fact, some people require pin-drop silence to get any work done. Even the slightest hubbub is enough to overwhelm such people. Given such a predicament, the logical path of action is to avoid distractions as much as possible. Yet truth is, what you resist persists. Have you noticed that the more you try to avoid checking email, the more you feel the urge to do it?  Focusing on the things that distract you can in fact help you to understand your distraction pattern and what mostly causes your mind to wander. Identifying your key distractions in a way gives you the awareness and prompts you to consciously remove yourself from a distracting environment.

Deal with present situations that are inherently distressful

Distraction and escape are two sides of the same coin. When your mind incessantly chooses to wander, it could be a self-preserving mechanism. When you are faced with a challenge or you are in a distressful environment, mindlessness can help you to shift your attention to something that is more pleasant than your current situation. This ping-pong, back and forth shift from distressful conditions to pleasant thoughts, can serve to alleviate (not deny) the experience of the present misery. In other words, stopping to smell the flowers may in effect, help you to change your situation by looking at it from a different light.

Top Up Your Ideas Jar

Observing traffic while working from a coffee, watching people, or listening to music as you work can inevitably open you up to novel ideas that can help to refocus or propel your present project. How many times have you chosen to work from a quiet apartment yet had very little done? Unless, you work best in utter silence, you will likely experience an “ideas block” if your daily workspace is a solitary one. Without a doubt, an “ideas block” is a major impediment to your overall productivity. Public and often distraction-filled spaces are filled with different objects, and diverse experiences that can inspire you and renew your focus on any project at hand.

It is undisputable that too much mindlessness can threaten your happiness, wellbeing and your sense of productivity. Even then, fighting against distractions creates a perfect domino effect that causes more wandering and more mindlessness. Take a closer look at the distractions around you. Some are worth removing yourself from, while others are ‘necessary evils’ that can have the reverse effect of boosting your creativity and your zest.

Do you have any special tips to give about how to focus on work?

2 Comments

  1. Fraser Park says:

    Not so long ago i transferred to manage another team in a different building. I found the management style completely different, the staffs stressed and with low morale and the environment not particularly happy. In rhis example I found my approach and attitude towards the working environment and achieving tasks very very different from managers higher up my own management chain. Team members were basically advised that if they talked too much while at their desks then they couldn’t possibly be getting on with their task in hand n mistakes made. I have challenged this by asking….’where’s the evidence that when staff members take time to communicate with each other, that quality and performance levels dip’. I believe we all need distractions at some point in the working day. Discouraging chit chat between people is not only verging on Victorian Values it supresses communication streams, relationship bonding, creative thinking and team working. I no longer need to monitor my team to excessive levels….Why…? Because I trust. If you give people trust then you earn their trust. If you encourage communications between colleagues then you have a more content and satisfied workforce. Obviously, if the trust is broken and an individual spends more time chatting nonsense than dealing with an important task, then action shoul be taken promptly but only with that one individual. Other people in the workplace are generally the biggest distraction. As a Team Manager I ‘m interupted numerous times a day either in person, emal and telephone. I have my own important tasks to undertake howrver these distractions often help me focus particularly focus on prioritising. I’m all for organisations encouraging conversation of any description in the worfkforce. This is not a distraction at all, this is allowing us humans to do what we do best…. Interact….. Ineraction with people or other situations is key to personal growth and development. I fear some employers and managers think that by creating a chinese sweat shop environment is yhe only way to be productive. I beg to differ. And my evidence…. I have one of the highest performing teams acroass the country in my field and i do strongly believe that my leadership approach, rncouraging conversation and allowing people time tk concrntrate on less priority areas has strongly influenced this high performance culture. Everyone who visits also advises…. What a lovely happy team, what a nice environment to work. We must be doing something right.

    • Andrew says:

      This is a great insight into the challenges within an organisation and how to overcome them. I’m really glad to hear that you have/are achieving success. Great stuff and thanks for sharing this excellent example.

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