Distraction is everywhere. It comes in dings, vibrations, blinking lights, video calls, energetic children, and unplanned visitors, both live and online. In my article called “5 Ways Multitasking is Destroying Men,” I said multitasking is a severe problem. Since distractions tempt us to habitually multitask, I would like to share how to avoid distractions. Distractions have been robbing men of their focus for generations. Even Abraham Lincoln faced this problem.
People who wanted to speak with him frequently interrupted him at the White House. Despite his open-door policy, the 16th President was still able to read, write, visit battlefields, and abolish slavery, all while battling distraction. It’s tough to know how Lincoln would have handled our modern distractions. While we will not be able to avoid 100 percent of them, we can avoid some. Here are 6 practical ways to reduce distractions while still living in the real world.
1. Turn off all notifications.Do not let your cell phone disrupt your day.
People look at their phones close to 82 times per day. So, turn off all notifications on your device. I mean everything. Do not let your cell phone disrupt your day. How many times are you busy working on a project, having a healthy conversation, or trying to read an article and you suddenly receive a bajillion notifications from all your apps? Turn them off. Nobody needs notifications from every single app. I only have my “reminders” notifications active. That way, I can control when I want to be interrupted.
2. Focus in 20-minute intervals.
I recommend working in short bursts of 20-minute intervals to help you achieve hyperfocus. This is effective if you are easily distracted at work, especially while working from home. Hide your phone, close your door, have your beverage already in hand, and work fluidly. Embrace having no interruptions for 20 minutes at a time. Then give yourself a five-minute break, but don’t get sucked into responding to multiple emails if you are trying to concentrate.
3. Respond routinely to batch messages.
Only respond to emails and other messages at dedicated times. Be like professors, who let everyone know their open office hours—unless you are a CEO (or President Lincoln) and your immediate response is critical to others’ well-being. That’s not for all of us, though. I find it challenging to hold off on responding when I receive an email at midnight. If I am awake, I feel tempted to reply, often trying to impress the sender by showing that I was up and considered their email important. But most of the time, messages that show up late can wait to be addressed until regular work hours.
4. Cancel social media.
This idea may be controversial, especially for my millennial colleagues—but I did it and am still alive. Get rid of your favorite social media platform. It has been two years since I deleted my Facebook account and I have not looked back. I often would waste time perusing other people’s posts and inadvertently generating extreme disdain for people I once admired. Sometimes, a post would get stuck in my head all day and disrupt my productivity until I vehemently voiced my opinion.
5. Fast from TV and streaming.
After a long day of working, cooking, cleaning, and wrangling screaming kids, most of us just want to sit and relax. Awesome! Just don’t get distracted from relaxation, namely by streaming your favorite TV show. I am a cinephile, so I get the need to get lost in a good film or a streaming binge. But try to have at least one day a week when you fast from all media. This will help declutter your mind. Talk to your spouse, play a board game, or open that book that has been sitting on your nightstand all year.
Finally, learn as much as you can about this topic. Clifford Nass from Stanford discusses this in a video on YouTube. Check out the books The Productivity Project or Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey. He has received the title “most productive man in the world” and has lots of great ideas on how to avoid distractions and multitasking.
And getting good at avoiding them will take time. As I write this, I am leading an orientation group at my company. So, I am not guiltless in this, but I think with some self-awareness and practice, men can turn this around and increase focus in the areas of their lives that matter most.
Sound off: What is your biggest daily distraction and how can you avoid it?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are your biggest distractions from homework or family time?”