7 Ways to Avoid Distraction and Increase Productivity

Ronald Barba

Oh, look! It's 10pm – I guess I should finally get around to writing this article on productivity. I've got my orange juice and my headphones; I'm totally ready to write this. But, wait, I think I need to do more research on how much time people waste throughout the workday. Wait, do I even need this? How is it already midnight?? Okay, okay, I think I've got everything I need…let me just respond to this one email. Anddd crap – what the hell – it's 2:30 – why was I on Facebook for so long? Ugh. Everything is the worst.

Time. We all want more of it, but oftentimes we underestimate the amount of time we actually spend on various activities. Too often, by the end of the day, we discover that the time we're allotted has somehow eluded us.

When it comes to productivity, our human capacity for focus (whether it's tasks, activities, or simply living in the moment) is what drives our level of production. In order to maximize the number of productive hours (or let's get real: precious minutes), we need to implement methods through which we minimize the distractions that prevent us from staying focused.

Here are some of the best ways to eliminate distractions and improve your productivity level.

Silence or turn off your phone

When it comes to increasing productivity, there's nothing that can provide you with more additional time to do actual things than turning off your phone. The constant interruption brought on by the barrage of notifications, texts, and emails will stymie your level of focus and lead to minutes or even hours of wasted time. If you're afraid of missing important calls or messages, then take the lighter route and silence your smartphone. Make sure to turn off notifications from unnecessary apps or services, though, so that you aren't distracted by the visual stimuli.

Delete unnecessary apps on your phone

Apps on apps on apps. Personally, I'll sometimes purposely delete certain apps on my phone that have a tendency to steal my attention. Knowing that certain apps are readily available at your discretion can often serve as a temptation to procrastinate.

For non-essentials like Facebook, Instagram, or Candy Crush, just go ahead and delete them. Whether you're studying or working on something for your job, delete the apps that 1) aren't necessary in helping you complete your task(s) and 2) have a history of distraction. Utilizing this method allows you to still access your phone's essentials, so that you don't miss out on important correspondence. Calm down – you can always re-download those apps when you're done.

Block access to or limit the amount of time you spend on certain websites

The Internet is vast and filled with so many great (and not-so-great) things for you explore! This is, of course, a major problem for our productivity-seeking purposes. Thankfully, there are a lot of services and programs readily available for our use to help us limit the amount of time we spend on distracting sites (I'm looking at you, Reddit). If you're not sure of what sites to actually block or limit, try using RescueTime to help you measure which websites or applications you're wasting too much time on. For more extreme measures, many of these can also completely block your access to those sites for a finite amount of time.

  • Anti-Social: A program that blocks sites for as little as 15 minutes to as many as 8 hours. It can't be turned off once you set your time, so it ensures that you're not wasting time online.
  • LeechBlock: A Firefox add-on that simply allows you to block those darn time-wasters.
  • StayFocusd: Really popular Chrome app that limits the amount of time you spend on distractive sites per day. A “nuclear option” allows you to completely block certain sites for hours at a time.
  • Cold Turkey: Similar to Anti-Social but has the added function of allowing you to block computer programs like Outlook for a certain amount of time.
  • SelfControl: A free and open-source application for Mac OSX that blocks access to your selected sites.

Turn off the Internet

Or, better yet, why not just turn off your Internet? If Internet access isn't absolutely essential to your task at-hand, then just turn off the darn thing. The best way to do this? Literally unplug your modem.

You can also try using Freedom. It's a program that enables you to turn off your Internet connection for a selected amount of time. In order to get back online, you need to manually reboot your computer, which is THE WORST (and precisely why Freedom utilizes it as the only way for you to reconnect).

Maintain a clean and organized workspace

Remember all of those times in college when you'd find yourself wasting hours cleaning your room instead of writing that paper due at 9am? Having a cluttered workspace is distracting – we can't help but want to stop whatever we're doing and clean or organize the mess before our eyes. So, make sure that your space is always organized, or at least free of messy distractions.

Constantly refine and edit email and social media filters

Similarly, we can get too easily distracted by the mess on our computer screens. Superfluous promotional emails, irrelevant tweets, and whatever else – we all experience them on a daily basis. The best way to deal with these distractions is to filter them out completely. Fully utilize the filter options on your email client, sorting messages into different categories and visibility options, depending on how important or non-essential they are.

The same goes for social media. Unfollow people who aren't adding to whatever experience you're trying to mold through social media, or sort them into lists or categories (I'm thinking specifically of Twitter here) so that your info streams are more focused. This allows you to, say, get on Twitter without getting sidetracked by comedians' tweets (since you'll presumably have a list for those specific users).

Schedule time for distractions

Most importantly: know that distractions are inevitable. From having to respond to email, to simply needing to take a breather and watch cats on YouTube, know that you'll need to eventually break your concentration. The best way to do this is to schedule times for these things. Whether it's “check and respond to email at 9am and 1pm” or “take a 5-minute break every 30 minutes,” distractions work best to your advantage when you prepare for them ahead of time and set limits on the amount of time you spend on such distractions.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.