Do any of these sound familiar?
“I just can’t focus. I don’t know where all the time goes. I never finish anything. Heck, getting started is almost impossible.”
You’re constantly reinforcing this belief that you’re distractible by nature with all those soundtracks playing over and over.
Those days are over, if you really want them to be.
Here, you’re going to learn how to train yourself to stay focused and on task.
First, be willing to question your identity as a distractible person or your belief that you have a short attention span. Yes, even if you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD or suspect that’s what’s going on for you. You have a brain that can go in a million directions — if you let it. But don’t live by labels, so don’t let that diagnosis limit or restrict you.
What’s more, we all live in a day and age where giant companies profit off their ability to distract us. So ADHD or not, many of us have grown up in a culture of constant interruptions, distractions, and sensory overload.
If you haven’t set yourself up — to make it easy and fail-proof to succeed — you’re not broken, you’re just fighting an uphill battle. So how do you turn the tides?
Training yourself to stay on task has two parts. First, you must eliminate distractions and temptations as much as humanly possible. Second, you must consistently flex your focus, because it’s like a muscle that improves with practice.
It’s going to take time. If you can only do one pushup, you wouldn’t expect to do 50 overnight, right? You’d push yourself to two, then five, then 10. The same thing goes for your focus. If you’ve spent years training yourself to flit from one task to another every few minutes, practice focusing for five minutes, then set a stretch goal to 10. Then 20.
3 Steps to Eliminate Distractions and Temptations
#1 Guard Your Time and Attention – From Yourself
It’s up to you and you alone to guard your attention and make it unacceptable for anything or anyone to interrupt you when it’s focus time.
Let’s start with the big one: technology. There are a few common reasons why people don’t take control of their tech.
“But I NEED notifications to be reachable in emergencies and accessible to my family/team.”
Unless you are a brain surgeon, I guarantee you don’t need to be as accessible as you think you do. (And even brain surgeons deserve some uninterrupted time — do you really want them answering texts while poking around in your brain?)
“I’m too busy to change all my settings.”
Too busy to set yourself up for success, you mean? Here’s a little tough love.
You’ve got to ask yourself, “If I really want to focus, what would I do?” Well, I’m telling you exactly what to do. If you choose not to do these 3 things, then maybe you really don’t want it. I’m going to assume that since you’ve read this far, you really want to focus and get your stuff done.
Let’s keep going, friend.
Some studies show that up to 60% of the average workday is wasted recovering from distractions. Take five minutes to update your phone and desktop now, and save yourself thousands of hours in the long run.
You’re thinking, “I’m not tech-savvy! I have no idea where to start.” Help is here. Google and YouTube always have tutorials on “How to Turn Off Notifications” or “How to Put My Phone in Do Not Disturb” that will walk you through this, step-by-step. You won’t believe how quick and easy it is.
Google it. Ask YouTube. Ask a friend.
You are more than capable of figuring things out, including how to set up your phone so it stops disturbing you.
First, turn off notifications on your phone.
Your wondering, “Which apps should I switch off notifications for?””
Virtually all of them. The goal is to put yourself in full control of your technology. You decide when to check your apps, you don’t let them decide for you!
Okay, I’ll wait right here, while you do this.
Did you do it?
✅ YES, I turned off notifications for email
✅ YES, I turned off notifications for social media
✅ YES, I turned off notifications for all other apps and interrupters
Next set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode!
I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t use Do Not Disturb mode! What if I miss an important call from my kid’s school or my ill mother?”
This is an easy fix! Tap on “Allow Calls From” and add important numbers like your kid’s school, your mom, or your boss. This allows their calls — and only their calls — to come through during Do Not Disturb mode.
Okay, I’ll wait right here, while you do this.
Did you do it?
✅ YES, I added important numbers to the “Allow Calls From” so I won’t worry about missing an emergency call.
✅ YES, my phone now has an automatic Do Not Disturb setting!
Finally, remove desktop notifications.
Again, google and youtube are your best friends here.
Okay, I’ll wait right here while you do this.
Did you do it?
✅ Yes, I turned off all desktop notifications.
Hey, do you hear that? It’s the sound of silence and sweet uninterrupted focus.
#2 Don’t Resist Temptation, Remove It
Start by identifying the temptations and distractions that are most problematic, then make it extremely hard to interact with them.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
If you watch too much TV, you can remove the batteries from your remote so you deliberately have to put them back in each time you turn the TV on — or get rid of your TV altogether!
Does social media suck you down a time sinkhole? You could remove email and social media from your phone completely. Only access them on your desktop at pre-scheduled times.
Online shopping or news sites get you off track? Set up an app like Freedom or a browser extension like BlockSite for Chrome to block certain websites during your focus hours.
Let’s identify your 3 biggest distractions. Get paper and pen. Make 2 columns. In the left column list the three biggest distractions that derail your focus. In the right column, brainstorm specific actions you can take to make them too hard or inconvenient to tempt you.
Distraction: (Left Column)
Action Steps to make it harder (Right Column)
→Log out of my Netflix account on all devices
→Add a deliberate block of guilt-free “Blissful Netflix time” to my calendar
→Change my password to“isthisreallythebestuseofmytime
Now choose one action step for each distraction and DO IT! Experiment for 30 days and see what happens to your productivity and well-being. Reassess and tweak as you go.
#3 Guard Your Time and Attention – From Everyone Else
Now that we’ve handled the ways you distract yourself, let’s deal with other humans.
It’s not enough to hope that other people won’t call or text or pop their head into your office with a “quick question” when you’re trying to focus. Remember, hope is not a strategy. You set the rules for how others are allowed to consume your time.
There are three ways to guard your time and attention from others:
#1 Become inaccessible.
Guess what? Folks can’t interrupt you if they can’t find you! You’ve already done the hardest part by removing notifications and making Do Not Disturb your default setting.
You may also want to make yourself physically inaccessible by closing yourself into your office, leaving the house, and using noise-canceling headphones at that out-of-the-way coffee shop when needed.
#2 Stop being an enabler.
You need to establish new rules for the people in your life. Don’t immediately answer texts, emails, or phone calls randomly throughout the day.
Train yourself (and the people in your life) that you’re not on-call 24/7.
#3 Communicate your boundaries.
The important people in your life can’t respect your boundaries if they don’t know what they are. It’s up to you to manage the expectations of your coworkers, family, children, spouse, boss, parents, and friends.
To eliminate distractions:
#1 Guard your time attention – from yourself
Start by removing the distraction and temptation of your phone and computer.
#2 Don’t resist temptation, remove it.
Identify your top 3 distractions and take action to make them harder for you to access.
#3 Guard your time and attention from everyone else.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries!
I promise, if you do the following 3 steps consistently you’ll be amazed at the progress you can make.
Pretty soon you won’t be telling yourself that you’re “distractible.” You’ll be telling yourself, “I know how to focus and get it done!”