The sun is shining, the pool is calling, and you’ve got three invitations to barbecues this week. One tiny problem: You’ve got work to do. With the arrival of summer comes plenty of extra distractions, and it can be challenging to stay on task with work or school projects. But fear not! We’ve put together some simple, strategic ways to reduce or eliminate distractions to help you stay productive without having to sacrifice all your time in the sun.
Identify Your Distraction Triggers
The first thing to do when you’re eliminating distractions is cultivate an awareness of what exactly causes you to stray from your tasks or lose productivity. Whether it’s your kids being out of school, construction happening on your street, or your friends texting you about this Saturday’s pool day, you’re surrounded by extra requests for time and attention. Identifying triggers that make work especially difficult to focus on is critical.
Once you identify what’s causing distractions, you can work to reduce their impact on your life and productivity. Staying focused at work or study can simply mean finding a more productive or quieter space to work, but much of what distracts us is beyond our personal control. Flexing your mental muscles through meditation and other mindfulness exercises can help lessen the impact of distractions and keep you on task.
Reduce Screen Time
Our cell phones are part of our daily lives, and they can have a profound impact on our ability to concentrate. According to a 2018 survey by Deloitte, Americans check their phones an average of 52 times a day -- more than ever before. Eighty-five percent of Americans check their phones before they even brush their teeth!
It’s not just the phones themselves that are causing distractions -- studies show that the constant stimulation and distractions associated with using smartphones or other screens are changing the ways our brains are wired. We’re less able to focus on a single task and more easily distracted. We crave stimulation, and when we’re faced with drawn-out tasks, like, say, writing a research paper or finishing up a project at the office, we’re less able to focus.
It’s not easy to reduce our dependence on screens. They’re everywhere we turn. But by going on brief “digital detoxes,” in which you avoid interacting with tablets, phones, and TVs for periods of time, you can help rewire your brain. Psychologists also recommend asking yourself “why” every time you pull out your phone -- if it’s to distract yourself, then try putting your phone back in a pocket or out of sight.
If it’s essential that you’re connected at all times, whether for work or family, then set aside specific times to check your phone. Being intentional about your phone usage and screen time can help you stay focused on your goals (and help you finish work faster!).
Set a Clear Path for the Day and Communicate Your Availability
Using to-do lists, calendars, and time-blocking can immensely help you avoid distractions. Make certain items non-negotiable, as long as they’re reasonable: “I have to read two chapters by 3 pm.” “I’m setting aside one hour to clear out my inbox.”
Try writing out a to-do list on an actual piece of paper, or in a planner, instead of using your phone -- it may reduce the chances that you’ll fall down a rabbit hole of digital distraction.
Bring your friends and family into the to-do list, too. If you’ve set aside time to study, ask that your time is respected -- after all, the more you’re able to focus on work, the sooner you’ll be able to go to the pool or relax with your family. It can be tough to set boundaries, but the results can have a huge impact on helping you avoid distractions and stay productive.
Clearly communicating your availability to friends can also help you avoid distractions. Saying “yes” to everything to avoid hurting someone’s feelings will only serve to stress you out more, resulting in a lose-lose situation. Avoid distractions caused by friends texting and calling you by letting them know up front when you’re available and then making concrete plans for visits.
You may also find that the office culture has loosened up significantly with the arrival of warm weather. If your work is thought-intensive and requires undisturbed time for concentration, let your teammates know or schedule three-hour blocks on your calendar as dedicated time to focus. Set and communicate times when you’ll check emails or respond to messages. Protecting your time and clearly communicating your availability can help you stay productive and on task.
Indulge Once in a While
It may sound counterintuitive, but rewarding yourself for your hard work in reducing distractions can help you be even more productive. Choose your reward intentionally -- if it’s catching up with an old friend, making time for family movie night, or finally heading out on that long weekend, it’ll feel all the more special if you know you’ve worked hard and avoided distractions to earn it.
You’re not a robot, and taking some downtime to rest and recover is essential to your productivity. Plus, when you’re well-rested and recovered, you’ll be less likely to fall victim to distractions like mindlessly scrolling on your phone.
Avoiding distractions in the summer can be tricky, but with the above tips on how to stay focused, you’ll be better equipped to stay on task, be productive, and enjoy these long summer days while you can.