Increase Your Productivity! Eliminate Distractions That Can Take You Out Of The Present Moment

How eliminating distractions can increase your focus and your productivity.

One of my favorite musical artists at the moment is this beautiful human being, going by the artist name Fred Again.

He did a mix last May that I find myself coming back to again and again. In it he explains a workflow process he’s been utilizing a lot over the past year and it’s one that we could all benefit from paying attention to and applying in our own lives for greater productivity and creative output.

What Fred has been messing around with a lot recently is creating drones by taking just a little piece of a song he is working on, like the beginning, and putting a bunch of processing on it and stretching it out for like 45 minutes to create these drones which are basically just sustained sounds, notes, or tone clusters. He then takes the drone he created from the song he is working on and has it playing in the background on another set of speakers while he is working on the track.

He started doing this because in his own words “every time I paused, I still stayed in the world of the tune, because it was this whole drone that had been created from stretching out the very first sketch of the tune itself.” He continues, “It sounds ridiculous, but actually I find it very powerful because you never leave the song, you’re there in it the whole time even when you’re paused thinking.”

Now you might be thinking, “If I don’t make music, how the heck does this apply to me?”

Great question.

The overarching theme here is that Fred created a system and an environment where he eliminated distractions that could take him out of the song, the present moment, and his creative state. This greatly boosted his ability to stay in that state of creativity and remain focused on the track even when he took short breaks to pause and think. In other words, Fred remained in that state of flow, the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a single task.

To remain completely present and fully immersed in a task involves an environment devoid of feedback and distractions that could pull you out of your current mental state.

To get an idea of this, imagine you’re trying to solve a problem.

When you’re completely present and fully immersed in solving the problem your brain will be more attuned and aware of all the information that could help you solve the problem. In contrast, when you’re distracted there is going to be a lot more irrelevant information bombarding you. There is going to be a lot more “noise” coming in at you. When you’re in “flow” and focused on that one thing all that outside noise isn’t there. You have space. It’s just you and the thing you’re working on.

Think of it like this, when you’re in “flow” it’s like you’ve erased a whiteboard of everything except the problem at hand and the potential solutions. If however, you fall prey to a distraction, you leave the whiteboard, and when you come back, you bring a bunch of useless and irrelevant information with you. That whiteboard is now cluttered with irrelevant information.

So How Do You Utilize This Strategy In Your Own Life?

When sitting down to work on something the first thing you want to do is become aware of everything that could distract you and pull you out of your focused mental state.

As the author of “Deep Work”, Cal Newport says “Less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking.” And it is precisely this space for deep thinking we want to create. We want to create as Cal calls them, “Deep Work Blocks”.

Start by blocking out a designated time where what you’re working on is your sole focus. Next, you want to consciously engineer your environment so that anything that could be a distraction is made harder to access, unavailable, out of view, or eliminated.

Minimize the tabs you have open, turn off the TV, turn notifications off on your phone or put it in the other room. Close the door. Tell the people around you that you love them but right now you’re focused on something and you’re not to be interrupted. Put headphones on. The list goes on and on.

Now Why Is This Important?

According to a UC Irvine study led by Gloria Marks it takes us about 23 minutes to get ourselves back on task.

Part of this is because after a distraction we often don’t just jump back into the task at hand. There are often two intervening tasks that happen before you actually get back to the original task at hand. What this means is it takes more effort to reorient yourself back to the original task! 

A second major factor and one that correlates to the Fred Again example is that when we are interrupted and distracted our environment is changed. For example, you get a text from a friend asking “where do you want to go to dinner?”. Now you don’t know what you want so you open up a few extra browser windows and start researching some potential spots. Or, maybe someone comes barging into your room and wants to show you something, so you now have to switch your focus away from what you’re focusing on and pay attention to whatever it is they are showing you.

The consequence of both these distractions is that it is now harder to recreate that space you were in prior to the distraction. Thus, there is a cognitive cost to these distractions! You’re now pulled out of the song, your creative headspace, or your productive mental state. It doesn’t take a genius to see this can not only be stress-inducing but also a major hindrance to accomplishing productive, creative, and meaningful work in a timely fashion.

Ask yourself,

Where in my day am I falling prey to distractions?

What would happen if I brought a higher level of consciousness to avoiding the things that distract me?

For me personally, my phone is my biggest distraction. I now put it on “do not disturb” and place it just out of reach. This drastically curbs my cravings to look up random things or check my messages especially when I feel like I need a mental break.

I used to rationalize to myself saying “it will only take a second” but what I wasn’t accounting for was all that irrelevant information I’d be bringing back with me and how much longer it took me to push this stuff out and refocus. These “quick checks”, I found, as the research suggests, quickly add up.

If you’re not consciously paying attention to it, checking your phone and then attempting to refocus on work can consume a significant amount of your day.

A Better Strategy

A better, more strategic, and stress-reducing approach is to take short mental breaks. Getting up and taking a few minutes to stretch, walk around, go to the bathroom, grab some water, or my personal favorite, go for a walk can work wonders.

Going for a walk can be especially beneficial when what you’re working on involves some sort of creative thinking. In fact, a study done by Stanford researchers found that creative output increased by an average of 60 percent during walks and those creative juices continued to flow when the person sat back down!!

Regardless of what you’re working on, When you start checking messages, scrolling social media, flipping on the TV, or surfing the internet you bring all of that irrelevant information back with you and it’s going to make it a lot harder for you to get back into flow. So, the key thing to remember is, that for you to stay in that focused mental state you want to minimize outside feedback that can distract you from what you’re working on and your intended outcome.

Summary

  • Decide on the one thing you want to focus on and the outcome you’re after
  • Designate blocks of time where that will be the only thing you are focusing on
  • Identify everything that could potentially be a distraction
  • Engineer your environment so that anyone or anything that could be a distraction is either notified, put out of reach, put out of view, made harder to access, or eliminated.
  • Take short UNDISTRACTED mental breaks.
  • Remain focused on that one thing until you have finished.

What are your biggest distractions? How can you minimize or eliminate them?