You had a clear goal: you wanted to finish that assignment or report and then all of the sudden you find yourself looking at cute cat pics on Instagram. How do you stay focused, become less sidetracked and ditch the butterfly effect?
Am I getting sidetracked easily?
Okay I have to admit, the example in the intro might be a little extreme, but I reckon everybody is guilty of this. Especially when it comes to doing something on the computer. You suddenly realize something and you start Googling, and then moments (or maybe even half an hour later) you find that you are doing something totally different. Mostly something that you shouldn’t have focused your precious time on then and there. Sound familiar? Well, then you’re reading the right article! You realized that you ou ed nd get sidetracked quite easily and more important: you want to work on the skill of becoming more focused.
“A typical employee spends only 11 minutes on a project before getting sidetracked”
Reasons for getting sidetracked
Yes that’s right. Eleven minutes! I remember that when I was in Uni, it was about 20 minutes that a student could pay attention to a teacher talking before getting bored or not being able to focus anymore. So what has happened since then? Most obvious to me it the fact that there are a lot of sense that can distract you and mainly this is your phone and your email. With every light beat and sound, you will want to know what you have been missing out on. Because what if you just look only a half an hour later only to find out that your Tinder date bailed on you because you didn’t respond fast enough.
How can you get distracted?
Moreover, it could also be that your mind is distracting you from doing your task and your thoughts stop you from doing whatever it is that you should be doing. It probably will be thinking something like: Oh yep, I should not forget to call Mr. Z and oh shut I forgot to prep for a meeting this afternoon. On when you ditch your current task to work on your prepping. Only to be distracted 5 minutes later to catch a phone call and 15 minutes later by a colleague who asks you a question. And not only will the average person be in a flow for 11 minutes, it will also take about 23 minutes to get back on track. Talk about wasting your time hey?
When you get sidetracked by another person
Okay you get asked a question by a colleague. Fair enough. You’re that kind person who helps her or him out. Only to get involved on social gossip of what their cheeky kids have been doing and what happened on the last episode of Married at First Sight. In order to get back to work you just have to learn to take a stand. Just as standing meetings are more productive because it isn’t comfortable, standing whilst talking is a gently reminder that you need to get back to your work asap. And if that doesn’t work, go to the kantine to make yourself a cuppa and walk back. It is also a good opportunity to schedule that well needed toilet break. Nobody who will join that ;).
When you get sidetracked by noise
When I really need to focus in an office, I can’t deal with a lot of noise around myself. I find myself tapping into somebody else’s conversations and wanting to be a part of it as well. For me my best tip to get less sidetracked is to put on some noise cancelling headphones. I put on some play hard work hard music on depending on my mood and there I go. For people who actually can’t work with music at all, some white noise music or piano tunes might be an option for you. And using headphones in the office is actually also a great ‘don’t disturb me’ sign.
When you get sidetracked by doing too much
In case you haven’t heard it before, multitasking is actually not the way to go. If you want to do more and succeed in that, it is actually better to do it task by task so that you can give it the full attention it needs. To focus on 1 project at the time you get, just like I said: more focused. It is more likely to get in a flow and be more productive. Practicing a single task strategy will make you more sharper and smarter and set priorities. The only thing that you have to do is focus on and finishing the task that you are doing, tick it off and pick a next one to focus on. It is stress relieving and makes you feel great!
When you get sidetracked because you’re out of focus
Remember the 11 minute time span? If you did make it to focus longer that than, congratulations!! But doing too much in one go is not going to help you either. Even though people won’t be able to focus on one task all the time, the productivity levels of a person will drop after 90 minutes. This is an excellent time period to give you a break. Grab something to eat and drink. Take a walk and then focus on something different than what you did before. By doing something totally different you will use different parts of your brain that you didn’t use before your break, meaning that you won’t exhaust your brain too much but still can be productive. A little notice though: be kind to yourself and don’t make to many hours a weak as this can lead to sleep deprivation and a burnout.
When you get sidetracked by your thoughts
When it’s just you and your thoughts, it can be confronting at some point. When you’re pondering about everything that’s going on in your life, how small or big it may be, it can certainly distract you from the thing that you should be doing instead. When you find yourself in this position, the best way to deal with this is to take a break. Because whether you resist or not, those thoughts probably won’t let you go. The best remedy for me is to jot them down so that they’re out of my head. And sometimes that is all it takes. And sometimes I decide that I’ll get back to it later. And if you overthink about the fact that you’re overthinking, you might want to include one or two moments in your day where you set an alarm for 15 minutes a day where you can write everything down you’re dwelling upon.