The average person is distracted or interrupted every 40 seconds when working in front of their computer.
In the flurry of statistics that exist around personal productivity, there’s one I find especially alarming: The average person is distracted or interrupted every 40 seconds when working in front of their computer.
Our brain’s attentional system is programmed to respond to anything that’s pleasurable, threatening or novel. We even have a novelty bias, wherein our brain is flooded with a pleasure chemical, dopamine, whenever we focus on something new.
So how can you gain back control? After reading hundreds of studies, interviewing dozens of experts and running the gambit of self-experiments, here are my four favorite strategies to mitigate distraction.
1. Create a distraction-free ritual. For my distraction-free mode, I enable a distractions blocker on my computer (I use an app named Freedom), put on noise-canceling headphones, leave my phone and tablet in another room, grab a coffee and set an intention for what I want to accomplish. After focusing for 45 minutes, I treat myself to a 10-minute all-you-can-eat distraction buffet.
2. Set three daily intentions. First thing in the morning, ask yourself: What three things will I want to accomplish by day’s end? Part of what makes this rule so powerful is that three things fit comfortably within our attention at once, and prioritizing them ensures that these tasks stand out from a laundry list of other, less important things.
3. Work on hard stuff, and do more of it. Sometimes distractions come from internal and external factors, but other times they happen because we’re not being challenged enough by our work. Assess your busywork level. If it’s high, that’s usually a sign that you have the capacity to take on more-challenging projects, and perhaps even more work in general.
4. Set an artificial project deadline. It’s up to you to introduce a novel and threatening factor to long-term projects lacking urgency. Have an entire afternoon to write a monotonous report? Give yourself 50 minutes.
(Chris Bailey is the author of “Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction” and “The Productivity Project.”)