In case the pumpkin-spice takeover wasn’t warning enough, it is indeed fall. And with all of the upcoming holidays, festivities, and family time, you might have more on your mind than just work. Like solving the ongoing debate on whether candy corn is vile or victimized. (Team vile over here. Not sorry.) That’s why we’re focusing on focus this fall. Because getting through your workday with no distractions leaves you more time to devour peanut butter pumpkins or creep yourself out with your own productivity. What better way to celebrate a new season?
5 Ways to Work With No Distractions
Here are some foolproof ways to having no distractions in your workdays.
1. Make multitasking a thing of the past
We know now that multitasking is off trend. And there’s good reason for that—multitasking makes you less productive and more distracted. Why? Studies show that when you switch from one task to another, the shift is not smooth. Rather than saving you time, that transition actually costs you precious minutes and mental capacity. And the more frequently you do it, the worse it gets.
What’s even worse than worse? Switching between devices like your laptop, phone, and tablet. Science dubs this “media multitasking,” and we’re probably all guilty. Rather than up our task-switching skills, the jump back and forth hits our focus hard. For example, in one Stanford study, about half of 100 Stanford students identified as media multitaskers, the other half did not. The experiment tested both groups on attention span, memory capacity, and the ability to switch between tasks. The self-proclaimed multitaskers made more mistakes, recalled fewer details, and took more time to finish tasks.
So, logically then, the best way to get work done with no distractions is to do the complete opposite of multitasking. In other words, get hyper-focused on one task at a time. Close all unnecessary tabs, keep your phone in another room, and set up browser extensions that block distracting sites.
+ Need more tips? Our article on monotasking breaks it all down.
2. Take a break
Focus is a tricky beast—a lot of the ways to improve it seem contradictory. That’s because our brains aren’t meant to sustain pure, distraction-free work for 8–10 hours a day. One way to resist the distractions around you? Take a break.
There are a few great ways to take breaks that can reset your focus—stuff like exercising and getting outdoors. But what about shorter breaks? You need to find a way to recharge your brain without sacrificing your time. Enter the Pomodoro Technique.
Developed by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is a time-management strategy that structures both your work time and your breaks. So you’re taking regular refreshers but not losing hours to distraction.
The Pomodoro Technique has six official steps, though we added one for clarification. (Sorry, Cirillo.)
- Pick one task to complete.
- Set 25 minutes on your timer. Use sites like Tomato Timer to make this easy.
- Work with urgency until the timer rings.
- When the time is completed, keep track of the session with a checkmark on a piece of paper. (Or don’t. The magic here, in our opinion, is the structure of work-time vs. break-time.)
- Take a break for five minutes.
- After every fourth Pomodoro, take a longer break (15–30 minutes).
The first and perhaps only rule of the Pomodoro? No distractions. Turn off your phone and put it another room. Let the people around you know. Shut any browsers, tabs, or programs you don’t need to complete the task. Throw up a Slack notification. Lock your door. Barricade yourself behind a tower of chairs. Crawl into a literal hole. Whatever you have to do to get uninterrupted time.
Once you get into a swing of it, you’ll see how focused your work becomes—and how productive you are. You’ll also find out how working with no distractions really feels. And you’ll want more of it.
3. Make it a positivity break
Another way to really ditch the distraction is to pay attention to the positive. And you can use your breaks (see tip #2) to make it happen.
Rick Hanson, New York Times bestselling author with a PhD in Clinical Psychology, talks about overcoming distractions with positivity in his book, Hardwiring Happiness. According to Hanson, negative emotions stop your brain from solving problems, whereas positive emotions improve the brain’s strategic-thinking abilities.
So how do you do it? Hanson says to bring awareness to a positive experience that is in the foreground or background of your awareness. This can be physical, like a great massage you had over the weekend, or mental, like a sense of determination or a feeling of gratitude. Stay with that feeling for 10 seconds or more. Then, get back to work for better focus and less susceptibility to distraction.
Bonus? Do this on one or more of your Pomodoro breaks to really help your focus soar.
4. Get in the zone with music
Okay, disclaimer: This one doesn’t work for everyone and for every circumstance. But, depending on your personality type and the task, music can get you on the path to no distractions and help you focus. The type of music you listen to also has an effect. Let’s take a look at the research.
One study compared the effects of calming music versus aggressive and unpleasant music. Children who listened to calming music performed better in math and memory tasks than those with no music. The kids who listened to the angry or less-than-pleasant music experienced the opposite: Their performance dropped. And, interestingly enough, so did their altruistic behavior. Of course, we’re not children here, but it’s an interesting look into the science behind music, mood, and focus. And probably one worth experimenting with.
Another thing to consider before you hit those Spotify playlists hard: Research shows that music affects introverts and extroverts differently. Introverts performed worse on complex tasks with background music but didn’t perform differently on simpler tasks with the same sounds. On the other hand, the extroverts didn’t seem to be affected by the background music for both the simple and difficult tasks.
The lesson here? Test out different types of music to see what keeps you focused. And give it a shot with different tasks too. Try classical, EDM with no lyrics, guitar, or the rustling of autumn leaves. (We had to set a little ambiance.)
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Sleep has one of the biggest impacts on productivity and focus. So if you’ve tried all of the above tips and you’re still drowning in distractions, you might need to look at your nighttime habits.
Think those six-hour nights count? Think again. One study showed that getting six hours or less of sleep every night over the course of just two weeks has the same effect as not sleeping for two days straight.
Multiple studies suggest that sleep deprivation costs you focus, cognitive ability, and mood. So clearly, if you’re looking for no distractions at the office, you need to be looking at extra hours under the covers.
Bonus: Set your surroundings up for no distractions
Remember behavior change 101? One of the critical steps is setting up your environment for success. In this case, that means minimizing the distractions around your physical, digital, and even mental space.
Physical: For the physical, do a daily declutter and reduce the stuff on your desk, shelves, and even your walls. You’ll be way less likely to zone out on those Ansel Adams’ prints if there’s only one to see.
Digital: Get your files in order or at least your desktop so you’re not flooded with a sea of icons as soon as you log on. Clear your downloads folder and trash regularly.
Mental: Mental clutter can be a little harder. To clear some of it, try a five-minute meditation or breathing exercise.
To sum it all up…
Working with no distractions is about more than your immediate circumstances. It’s about your physical and mental space, how much sleep you got, how you structure your time, and how you take breaks. Luckily, there are manageable ways to make these behaviors automatic so focused work becomes your norm. If you can master a distraction-free workday before the holidays really set in, you’ll be setting yourself up for a productive end-of-year and an enjoyable season. That’s a big Hallo-win in our book. (We just couldn’t resist.)
Your turn: How do you keep the distractions from getting you down? Got other ways to work with no distractions? Let us know in the comments.
Want more ways to celebrate the season? Check out our list of 11 Halloween costumes for people who love productivity.
Author: Nadia Chaudhry
Nadia Chaudhry is an SEO copywriter and content marketer. She’s all about growth in business and life. No surprise, she loves to write about personal development, productivity, e-commerce, and marketing. But first, pilates. Follow her on Twitter @NadiaChaudhry.