There have never been more things vying for our attention when we sit down work. That’s why it’s more important than ever to create a distraction-free environment to help us focus on what matters.
“Success is actually a short race—a sprint fuelled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over.” ― Gary Keller, The ONE Thing
When things start getting out of our control, it’s best to take a step back and audit our behaviours to see what’s working and what isn’t working.
In the post, I share 10 actionable habits to help you create a distraction-free environment so you can get things done at work.
1. Disconnect from the internet
The reality is that most of us are addicted to the internet, especially in this age where our devices are with us all of the time.
We have access to all the content we could want, and this privilege creates one of the biggest obstacles when trying to knuckle down and get work done.
So do yourself a favour and turn off your internet. Turn off your wifi box at the power, turn off your mobile data on your smartphone or go somewhere that is completely internet free to get work done.
If you’re in an office environment or at school, close all of your applications on your computer screen that require the internet and focus on working offline. Separate tasks that require the internet.
For example, do an hour of research online, save it your data, then go offline to complete your paper.
2. Put your television in storage
This is not as important as it used to be, as the internet has reduced our dependency on free to air television. However, even just having the TV on in the background when you’re trying to work is an unnecessary distraction.
If you catch something interesting, you’ll be tempted to stop your work to see what’s going on. Instead, challenge yourself to put your television in storage for a period and see if you miss it.
It’s one less distraction, and not having it there will free up some time for you to do more meaningful activities.
3. Write down your most important tasks every morning
There’s something about writing down your tasks in the morning that creates this amazing momentum. The key here, however, is only to write down 1–3 tasks that are achievable for that day.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with a long to-do list that you won’t be able to complete. Save those items for your task manager or a separate written list where you brain dump everything you need to do.
4. Turn off notifications on all of your devices
Apps are always competing for your attention, and one of the best ways to win that battle is to get you to receive push notifications on your devices. That way you’ll never miss out on what’s happening, right?
Push notifications only amplify your reactive state—encouraging you to glance, click and engage when you don’t need to and when you’re trying to work. It’s extremely difficult to not be affected by notifications.
I mean, who doesn’t glance over at an email message pop up? You’re better off turning off all of your notifications and getting some control back in your workflow. You can always allocate time to check all of your different applications on your own terms.
5. Find your quiet place
This could be your favourite coffee shop, a park, or a dark room in your office building. Test a few different locations to see where you feel calmest. I find it’s good to change up your location. Sometimes I go somewhere with a waterfront view or go to my favourite cafe.
Either way, I always feel more productive in my spots and still wonder why I don’t go there more often! Once you find your quiet place, make sure to find time in your calendar to get there every week.
6. Remove physical clutter
Pens, paper, cables, phones, mugs, plates. These are just some of the many items you can find on cluttered desk space. Regularly exposing yourself to clutter spikes your cortisol and decreases your productivity.
One of the first things you should do when creating a distraction-free environment is to remove all clutter from your desk. The lesser the items, the lower the mental clutter and distractions.
7. Only have one window on your computer open at a time
A clear indication of distraction, clutter and overwhelm is the number of windows open on your computer. It’s amazing how quickly we can get lost in browser tabs, document finders and email messages.
A key to productivity at work is the ability to single-task. Having too many windows open makes it harder for you to find what you’re working on and also adds to your mental clutter.
If you’re addressing email, close everything else and focus on just that. If you’re reading an article in your browser, close your other tabs until you have finished reading then hit the back button and move onto the next search result.
Admittedly, this is an area I have to work on. I tried this technique when writing this article and it feels restrictive at first, but it works like a charm.
I’ve found that a good first step is to make each window full-screen—that way you’re fully immersed in one task at a time.
8. Establish an evening and morning routine
One of the most important habits for productivity is having a routine for sleep. Without adequate energy, you’ll not be able to focus and perform at your best.
Also, having an evening routine will create time for you to execute on your morning routine and start your day with clarity and momentum.
Here’s an example of my evening routine:
- Turn off the internet at the power
- Turn off the computer and put phones/tablets in flight mode
- Clean kitchen and put the dishes away
- Clear all benchtops in the house
- Fold and put away loose clothes
- Brush and floss teeth
- Wash face
- Unwind (read a book, listen to music, play cards etc.)
9. Clear your inbox
Ever since I came across David Allen’s getting things done (GTD) methodology many years ago, I’ve been committed to clearing my inbox. He refers to this process as achieving inbox zero. It really is an empowering feeling to have cleared your entire inbox.
What I found works best is not to have multiple folders under your mailbox. Most of the popular email clients (Outlook, Gmail, Apple Mail) have an archive feature.
So rather than moving messages into folders, merely archive them. You can always perform a search in your inbox to find an old message. If you know for sure that you’ll never need a message (SPAM), delete it. When you delete a message, you’ll no longer be able to reaccess it in the future.
I find that I archive about 90% of my messages and delete 10%. But I don’t have any folders as I want to reduce the number of decisions I have to make.
10. Say no
The number one habit to help you get more work done is the ability to recognise what is important and when to say no. This could mean saying no to meetings, new projects, phone calls.
Don’t get caught up in trying to be a people pleaser. This is a sure-fire way to overload your commitments and get distracted from doing what’s important.
So get into the habit of assessing what tasks you’re filling your calendar with and knowing what effect saying yes might have on your current productivity.
What are your tips for creating a distraction-free environment?
So there are our ten habits for removing distractions when working. What other methods do you use to clear distractions? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.