The Science Behind Distractions and How to Avoid Them

In today’s day and age we’re faced with more distractions on a day to day bases than ever before. I think it’s safe to assume that most of these distractions are now coming to us in a digital form.  New emails, text messages, cell phone notifications, phone calls, television and social media are all contributing to a distracted brain on a daily basis.  What happens when our brain is distracted?

The Science

prefrontal-cortex-public“Whenever you need to pay attention, an area toward the front of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex springs to action. This area, which spans the left and right sides of the brain, is part of the brain’s motivational system. It helps to focus your attention on a goal and coordinates messages with other brain systems to carry out the task.  While the right and left sides of the pre-frontal cortex work together when focused on a single task, the sides work independently when people attempt to perform two tasks at once.” –

Tips to Avoiding Distractions

The most important part to avoiding distractions is identifying them.  Once you know what is distracting you, you can put a plan in place to fix it.

When you work in an office.

If you work in an office you can be distracted by so many things – mainly other people.  How many times in an hour do you think you’re distracted by someone distractions-in-the-officecoming into your work space, a ringing telephone or overheard banter from a cubicle nearby?  Now multiply that by 2,000 – the estimated hours you work in a calendar year.  What a waste of time!  Eliminating a large percentage of these distractions are possible, but you have to be organized and discipline:

  • Have regular meetings.  If you’re communicating with the people you need to communicate with on a regular basis you will reduce the need for them to drop in and ask questions or email you.
  • Practice time blocking.  YOU determine how you’ll spend your next ten minutes and don’t let others decide that for you.  Set aside time for the important things in your day an do not address them until that time has arrived.  If part of your day deals with customer relations, schedule time from 3pm – 4pm (for example) to deal with those issues.  If someone approaches you with an issue before hand, tell them to come back at 3 o’clock (or make an appointment for 3 o’clock the next day).  Make a schedule and stick to it (read: The Art of Mastering Your Day When You Work for Yourself).
  • Put a sign on the door. Keep your door open 80% of the time allowing an “open door policy”, but close it when it’s time for you to focus.  When people see a door closed that’s usually always open, that will clearly indicate that you’re busy.  It’s okay to ask for quiet time, so don’t be afraid to put a sign on the door saying “please do not disturb” with a specific time frame (ie: for the next 2 hours).

When you work from home.

work-from-home-distractionsIf you work from home you sometimes people don’t really understand that you’re actually working!  Working from home is really no different than working in an office, besides your obvious location.  When you work from your house, you can be distracted by other house members, pets, the television or just laziness!  Here are a few things you can do to combat them:

  • Close the door.  Make sure everyone at home knows when your door is shut, you’re working and are not to be disturbed.  Use a “do not disturb” door hanger if need be.
  • Don’t send mixed signals.  You’ll confuse people if you’re calling them in the room to show them funny memes and YouTube videos.  Make sure everyone in the house knows that you mean business.
  • Wear headphones.  Block noise, tune into relaxing music or simply give off the “do not disturb me right now” look.
  • Avoid Distracting Areas.  Get out of the living room!  You have to find a quiet place where you can focus away from the TV or other distractions.

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Staying focused and eliminating distractions that have probably become part of your regular routine is not easy.  Like anything else, you have to work at it.  Make it a habit and you’ll be sure to succeed.

Brian Golbourne

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