Distractions are everywhere.
They’re text messages from friends, Slack messages from colleagues, or even a messy desk.
With our attention pulled in all directions, it’s no surprise that over the last few years, our average attention span dropped to 8.25 seconds—we’re more easily distractible than ever.
When creating sustainable work habits, distractions can prevent us from building routines that support our mental health and productivity.
So, how do you set yourself up to work with no distractions? With the right tools and techniques, of course.
In this article, we’ll look at the most common distractions and top strategies for avoiding them.
Why should you avoid distractions?
Distractions have a negative impact on our productivity and depth of work. When our attention constantly shifts from one stimulus to another, we spend very little time earnestly engaging with one thing.
You might get distracted unwillingly or intentionally distract yourself as a way to procrastinate. All told, when you hop between activities or tasks, very little actually gets completed. It also prevents deep work—the state of mind where you work efficiently and come up with your best ideas.
Individuals with ADHD are even more prone to context-switching and multitasking due to how their brain naturally notices more factors in their environment. This internal distractibility could be as simple as the task you’re trying to focus on reminding you of something else, prompting a context switch. It could also be something external, like having your workflow get interrupted by a DM or colleague shoulder tap.
In summary, distractions get in the way of us working productively and creating sustainable work practices that support our well-being.
What are the most common distractions during the work day?
There are so many ways you can get distracted during the day, both internal and external. Whether it’s exhaustion that prevents you from focusing or a constant flow of emails, it might feel like there’s always something that demands your attention.
Before we dig into tips and tools to help avoid distractions, it’s essential to identify the key culprits. Read the list below to see which common distractors resonate most with you. Remember, your list of distractions might go beyond what’s listed here, so it’s important that you curate a personalized collection of factors that pose regular distractions to you.
- Cell phone
- Social media
- Chatting with colleagues, roommates, loved ones
- Browsing the internet
- Checking email or DMs
- Workspace clutter
Once you have your list, bucket them into two categories: internal and external. Internal distractions are those within your inner world, like hunger, fatigue, or anxiety. External distractions include those beyond you, like interruptions from colleagues, background noise, email pings, meetings, or cell phone notifications.
You’ll employ different strategies for each collection of distractions.
8 tips for reducing distractions in your work environment
Keep a clean workspace
You might be surprised how easy it is to get distracted by physical items in your workspace. Trinkets on your desk, an unorganized pile of documents, or a basket of random objects are all potential distractions. Sometimes, they’re just reminders of other items on your to-do list. When you start thinking about everything you need to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So, what’s the solution?
Set aside time at the end of each day to clean your desk. Return pens to their holder and neatly stack notebooks and documents. Move that stack of papers to another room so you don’t have to look at them all day. If you want to go the extra mile, give your keyboard, mouse, and desk a quick wipe-down. Now, you have a space conducive to focus and productivity—you can even declutter your digital workspace and start tomorrow with your priorities ready and waiting for you.
Organize a realistic schedule
Do you begin each day with an impossibly huge task list? Overwhelm and anxiety can be distractions that we often underestimate. If you sit down at your desk every morning and feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do, it might be time to take a closer look at how you’re structuring your day.
Planning a realistic schedule is vital to long-term focus and success. If you have a long task list, break it down into smaller action items. Look at your deadlines and work backward, giving yourself shorter-term deadlines that are more manageable and less overwhelming. Avoid scheduling more than a few hours of deep work each day. Your brain needs time to rest and recuperate so you can work as effectively as possible.
Prioritize your tasks
When you know exactly what you need to work on next, there’s less room to get distracted by something else. Here is where simple prioritization tactics can help. There are a couple of different ways you can approach prioritization.
First, you can implement a priority matrix. Using a four-box grid, plot out all your to-do items based on their impact, urgency, and required effort for completion. Tasks in the high-impact, low-effort box should land higher on your priority list. Remove items in the low-impact, high-effort quadrant from your list entirely. This strategy works great if you have numerous ongoing, larger projects that you need help prioritizing.
Secondly, use the “eating the frog” technique for daily tasks. The idea comes from a quote from Mark Twain. He said if you eat a frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day. It translates to prioritization by encouraging you to work on your most demanding or important task first, so you start your day with a sense of accomplishment.
You can double-dip into both of these strategies to help keep you even more on track.
Think of how often your attention is pulled in another direction when an email, DM, or text message arrives. Whenever your phone chimes because someone engaged with you on social media, it automatically draws your focus. Perhaps letting your phone sit by your side throughout the workday is just too tempting, and you find yourself mindlessly scrolling social media anytime there’s a lull in your workflow. Everyone has these moments—the strategy is recognizing when to pause notifications and put your devices away.
Whether it’s emails, DMs, or text messages, temporarily mute notifications so you can focus on your work, and make sure you communicate to your colleagues that you might take longer to reply while doing heads-down work. Introduce a tool like Sunsama that pauses all notifications for a time you define. The tool makes removing distractions and falling into a deep-work state of mind seamless.
Implement a time management strategy
An organized routine helps you avoid distractions. By implementing a time management strategy like the Pomodoro Technique or timeboxing (or both!), you set yourself up for deep, focused work time and minimize the risk of your attention going in another direction.
The Pomodoro Technique creates a structure organized around focused work and breaks. You can play around with the exact amount of time that works for you, but often the strategy uses a working sprint of 25 to 30 minutes followed by a 5 to 10-minute break. In short, you’re rewarding your focused work time with a break to grab a snack, go for a short walk, check your phone, or anything else. For this reason, it’s a great technique to help ADHDers stay focused.
Timeboxing means blocking time on your calendar when you work on one task without distraction for a specific time frame. You’re focusing on a single to-do item and nothing else. The technique invites deep work, so it’s a best practice to schedule this time for when you’re most productive. Sunsama is a tool with a timeboxing strategy built in. Estimate how long a task will take, then drag and drop that task from Sunsama into your calendar to schedule deep work.
Within all these strategies to be more focused and avoid distractions, don’t forget about taking breaks. We often underestimate the importance of giving our brains time to relax. A tired mind is more easily distracted. Our minds need time to decompress after deep focus to maintain high concentration levels.
It might mean consciously working breaks into your routine depending on your schedule. It’s sometimes tricky when you feel slammed at work, but you increase your chances of burnout when you don’t rest. For sustained productivity and long-term wellness, make sure you take breaks.
Multitasking might feel like you’re being more productive—you might work on multiple tasks simultaneously while also replying to emails and DMs from coworkers. In truth, when you’re doing multiple things at once, you only have surface-level interactions with them instead of a deep, focused engagement.
Think of multitasking as a series of distractions. Your attention wanders elsewhere while working on one task, so you end up chipping away at many tasks without completing any. It also makes deep work nearly impossible. Recognize if you need to multitask because you have too much on your plate daily, so that focusing on one at a time feels challenging.
The best way to avoid multitasking is to create habits around prioritization and time management. Create a realistic daily schedule so you can maintain long-term productivity.
If you’ve ever dreaded a task, you might’ve found ways to distract yourself and procrastinate working on it. We’ve all been there. In this context, we use distractions to avoid those dreaded tasks. Yet, it also means we likely feel more stressed and rushed when deadlines inevitably arrive.
The first step is identifying which tasks you tend to procrastinate. Are there obligations you avoid doing while others you jump right into?
Once you’ve named them, consider building a schedule using the abovementioned prioritization or time management techniques. Eating the frog is a great option—commit to working on the tasks you’re likely to procrastinate on first thing in the morning. You could also alternate your tasks, so you work on one you dread, followed by one you enjoy until you’ve completed everything on your list.
Build a distraction-free routine with Sunsama
Any new tool or technique should align with your work preferences. When building new healthy work habits, you need a tool that skillfully balances flexibility and functionality to support your productivity and minimize distractions.
Sunsama is the tool to help you stay on track with no distractions.
Using the drag-and-drop timeboxing feature, Sunsama helps you organize your tasks into structured focus time. You can pause all notifications within the tool to work on the task at hand without distractions. Sunsama also lets you know if you’ve scheduled more than 5 hours of deep work, so you know when to take another look at your commitments for the day. All together, the tool is focused on creating sustained productivity and well-being.
When you lean on Sunsama, work routines with no distractions are within reach. Give Sunsama a try today.