Being able to focus is all about limiting, tuning out, and ignoring distractions so you can stay on the task at hand. As I wrote in my what causes distraction post, the environment you are in can significantly add to your level of distraction. Fortunately there are a lot of things you can do about your environment to minimize distractions and aid in your focus.
Pick a place to work
If you are in an office with a dedicated desk, your choice is already made for you. If you are any where else you probably have quite a few places to choose from, whether you realize it or not.
If you are at home, you may be subjected to the whims of the people you live with. Find a space that best meets these criteria. Get as close as you can to finding a location that meets all of these. If nothing does, don’t worry about it, just find a place that meets most of them.
- Television cannot be seen from where you sit
- There is a clear tabletop or desk with nothing for you to fiddle with. Take the time to clear off your desk or table where you will be working, there should be nothing on it other than what you need to complete your work. This includes lots of photos and mementos. Pick out 1 or 2 things at most that are special and keep them there. Everything else can be filed away and looked at when you have time and want to take a run down memory lane.
- There is minimal foot traffic in your field of view, people constantly running by will only pull you away from what you are trying to work on.
- You have a comfortable chair to sit on, maybe you need a pillow to put on the chair so your rear end doesn’t start to hurt after 20 minutes.
- You are close to an outlet so you can charge your laptop if you are using one.
Once you have your space established, try and keep it in a clean and ready state for you to do focused work. This means, do not clutter it back up with meaningless paper, and needless junk just because you have more open space. The idea is to keep the distractions to a minimum.
If you are away from home, the criteria is largely the same.
- Stay away from televisions or blinking signs that will draw your attention.
- Find a spot that you will be able to stay out for the length of your focus session. Conference rooms can be a bad location as people often times have these booked or may try to kick you out if they see you are the only person using them. The same goes for coffee shops or other public places. Make sure you understand what the policy is and what you need to do to keep your spot for as long as needed. Often times you just need to buy a few coffees.
- Make sure you have enough battery power on any digital device you need, if not, make sure you are close to an outlet so you can charge up.
- Pick a spot that minimizes foot traffic. People walking by in your field of view or constantly bumping into you will only provide more distractions for you to fight with.
- Pick a spot with minimal visual distractions. A place with a bunch of great abstract art may be fun to hang out in, but if it keeps distracting you from what you are working on, whats the point of trying to work there.
- Make sure you are comfortable with what you are sitting on. You won’t be able to get anything done if you can’t sit long enough to do it.
Dealing with noise
Our brains are programmed to tune into that noise and check for danger. Unless you are trying to work in a danger filled space, not recommended, you will need to tune this noise out so you can focus on the tasks at hand.
You have a couple of options for dealing with noise. The first is you can try and enlist the cooperation of everyone around you to be perfectly quiet. Good luck! People make noise, animals make noise, neighbors make noise, just about everything makes noise. The world is filled with a wonderful cacophony of sound and you will be hard pressed to silence it.
The second, and much more recommended path is to block your ability to hear the sound. A good set of earplugs can meet the goals or a set of headphones with some relaxing background noise. If you go with headphones, I recommend noise canceling or noise isolation headphones as they do a good job of blocking outside sounds. Lots of research has been done on what music to pick, the common recommendations are to try and pick music with out words so you don’t get distracted singing along. Baroque classical music is a good option. I have a classical station set up on Pandora that I use which works quite well.
Now that the work area is ready and you have a strategy for dealing with the noise go to it and start working on the focus session. Try not to get up from your space unless you have to and just keep at what ever you are doing until the session is over. Good luck and happy focusing.