Productivity has more to do with your habits than with your IQ.
What you do every day either put you one step closer to getting more high-value work done or two steps back.
Managing time efficiently is increasingly becoming challenging. Sometimes, distractions are often about the fear of missing out, but it’s about finding the focus you need to create and to work on what’s important.
The most effective way to combat digital distractions is to be prepared to do whatever it takes to exercise control in your life.
Distractions come in two main kinds, which Daniel Goleman explains in Focus: The Hidden Power of Excellence: sensory distractions (things happening around you) and emotional distractions (your inner dialogue, thoughts about things happening in your life).
Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown University and author of five self-improvement books thinks the ability to stay focused will be the superpower of the 21st century. In his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, he argues thatfocus is the new I.Q.
1. Productive people starve their distractions
How often do you feel frustrated at the end of the day because your most important tasks are still not done?
Losing momentum slows progress. Every day, you face the “villains” of life and work that can overtake your energy and initiatives. They forge roadblocks and make you detour down a path of shallow work.
According to Udemy’s survey, nearly 3 out of 4 workers (70 percent) admit they feel distracted when they’re on the job, with 16 percent asserting that they’re almost always distracted. The problem is biggest for Millennials and Gen Zers, with 74 percent reporting feeling distracted.
“Working with 95 volunteers, psychologists Jeff Moher and Joo-Hyun Song at Brown University, along with Brian Anderson at Johns Hopkins University, found that subtle distractors change what we are doing more than obvious ones. But they do not have the same effect on what we see,” writes Diana Kwon of The Scientific American.
People experience distractions differently. Some people can deal with them better than others. Two people will react to a distraction in their immediate environment differently.
Distractions can compromise your effectiveness at work. Your brain requires a significant amount of metabolic resources to process information and perform complicated tasks.
Every time you switch your focus to a new task or stop what you’re doing to take in the distracting element, you lose a portion of that energy.
You lose momentum in the process. It takes even more energy to reach the same level of attentiveness and intellectual capacity you were using before.
By allowing occasional distractions to interrupt your work, you use more brainpower, get tired easily and lose focus.
When you stop performing an action and then start it again, you basically start at the beginning and need to build up the habit again.
The minute that you lose productive action habit and break your flow, you lose the thread. You become extremely vulnerable to distraction — other people’s demands creep in, you get tempted to respond to urgent emails and notifications and every other thing vying for your attention and focus.
To perform at your peak, proactively carve out a block of time to rest, recharge and get back to doing what you do best. Work in sprints and deliberately starve the many distractions that stop you from doing your best work.
“…Even if you’re working on your project for just an hour a day that’s enough to keep your objectives and recent activities top of mind. Then, when you sit down to work on it again, you can slip quickly back into the flow,” says Jocelyn K. Glei of 99U.
If you can keep moving on your tasks every day, it’s infinitely easier to stay focused, make and feel progress, and blast through the roadblocks that inevitably come up.
Consistent execution is paramount to your progress — it keeps your head clear and focused; it rewards you with a constant feeling of progress; and, most importantly, it keeps the ball moving forward.
If you get to the end the day feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything, try treating those less important tasks as distractions. Focus on a few things you can get done that move you closer to your work goals.
If you want to get in shape, write consistently, make great art, eat better, or anything else, watch out for distractions.
Some workflows, habits, and routines can get in the way of real work. Evaluate them monthly or quarterly to get rid of unseen distractions. Build a system to block out distractions.
“Take a look at your favorite digital activities. Look at how you use social media, video games, puzzles, television shows, podcasts, news, and spectator sports. Are you using them as tools to build strength, skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy for the future? Are you using them to be temporarily distracted to escape from an uncomfortable reality? If it’s the latter, you may want to reconsider the role these distractions play in your life,” writes Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.
2. They feed their focus every workday
The biggest challenge we face related to focus is not just distractions, but it’s our lack of clarity of purpose. When you are certain about your next steps, it’s easier to get started and create momentum and make progress.
Focus helps the brain in two ways, says Dr William R. Klemm, Senior Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University. “It makes rigorous, sustained thinking easier, and it helps solidify memories.
Focus is starting a task, maintaining your attention and effort until the task is complete — without being distracted in the process.
It’s also referred to as “flow”, a term popularized by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”. People also refer to focus as the feeling of “being in the zone” — your mind is so immersed that you lose the sense of space and time.
What are your most important tasks? For meaningful productivity, you need a strong bias toward action that keeps you on track to doing your best work day in and day out.
Resistance to doing work that matters will come from within and without. Make an actionable growth plan. Identify the destination you seek, then identify the necessary steps to bring that destination into reality.
Think things through in the smallest detail.
When you are in motion towards something meaningful, you improve your chances of growing your skills, knowledge and getting results.
Think through what you want to achieve by this time tomorrow.
Progress just doesn’t happen; nor does success. Both need focus, a decision, a plan, action and a continual commitment with little or no distractions.
This article first appeared on Medium.