A guide to focus & productivity in the age of distraction

For some of us, the ability to just be able to focus comes naturally and can be turned on or off like a switch. For the rest of us, it can be one of our biggest challenges; just to get going with work. It’s especially difficult considering the plethora of technology battling for our attention in this day and age. We may never be able to develop that ‘switch’, but there are tactics that you can apply in your day-to-day life to develop productive habits.

Create habits & routines

You can develop any habit for a lifetime (good or bad) by doing that activity/action for 30 consecutive days. Being able to develop habits is a skill in its own right. Being disciplined for an extended period of time allows you to optimise your time throughout the day. Making just a small positive change in just one area of your personal life will give you the confidence to apply this in your working life. Taking the time to read for 20 minutes every day, prepare your meals or get some early morning exercise in will help relax you and thus bring more focus in the working day. If you’re able to successfully develop small habits in your personal life, you’ll find that you’ll have the focus to apply this to your job or your business. Developing habits will allow you to do more with less time.

It can be difficult staying consistent to develop habits, but putting in that effort for 30 days will give you the ability to try any new skill and give you the focus you need. But don’t take it from us, hear from Google Engineer Matt Cutts in his TED talk; which has over 8m views.

Manage your email

All of us have had the misfortune of being in prison, well, mail jail. It’s very easy to open a mailbox during the day and get consumed by the sheer volume of meeting invites, e-newsletters, admin work and old conversations that we lose focus and forget why we are there in the first place.

To avoid a lengthy sentence in mail jail, there are a few tactics you can try out.

  • Turn off mail alerts. Do you really need a desktop or mobile notification every time an email appears? For some of us that may the case, but for the rest of us, switch this off. Every time those emails pop up, be it at the desk, in meetings, or even on a break, they immediately make you lose focus on the task you were on
  • Email disconnection times – Studies have proven that we’re at our most productive and creative early in the morning. Try for a few days not getting into work and going straight into your mailbox. Try instead, to spend 25 minutes on your key task of the day first thing.
  • Email checking times – Set aside 25 minutes at 2-3 intervals in the day and only access the mailbox during these times. You’ll instantly remove a potential distraction from your day and be more focused.

Manage your space

In most cases, you’ll find that those with the tidy minimalist desks are more productive and focused. Why? Because they have fewer distractions. For this one, it’s a good idea to go old school with your desk set up; get yourself an in-tray. This way you can properly organize the space around you and see that if anything important is dropped off at your desk, it won’t be lost in the clutter. A good habit to get into doing is to clear all clutter and tidy your work space at the end of the day. This way you return to a clutter free tidy area with one less thing to think about when you start the next day.


Time off tech

Your phone is the best and worst piece of technology when it comes to productivity. We’re blessed to live in a generation where we can take our work anywhere and be productive on the go, but when it comes to working at a desk, your phone is the main distraction. Finding focus and productivity simply comes down to discipline here and being able to say ‘no’ to social media apps, texting and games.

Try the Pomodoro technique

  1. Pick your task
  2. Set a timer to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task and only that task for the full 25 mins
  4. Have a pen and paper handy to write down any thoughts/distractions (e.g. something you need to do later on)
  5. Take a 3-5 minute break from the task
  6. Repeat the cycle 3/4 times, then have a longer 10-15 minute break

This method has proven successful for a number of reasons. It gives you several little bursts of accomplishment throughout the day as you complete the 25 minutes whilst fully focused. You have a clearer mind because you’ve noted down distractions. And, you get the chance to self-assess by looking through the ‘raw data’ you produce about your day.

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