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Blog > The Art of Focus: What Distractions Will You Release in the New Year?

The Art of Focus: What Distractions Will You Release in the New Year?

Mastering focus in a world of distractions
Man focused at work

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Picture this. It’s almost the end of the week, and you’re approaching the deadline for a big project. You set a goal to finish it, get to work early, and open your laptop. Then suddenly, you’ve got three new emails from your colleagues, five tabs open on your computer, and six tabs on your phone. Suddenly, you have a headache which increases your stress and distracts you even more. Sound familiar?

It may be time to work on your concentration. Achieving goals — no matter how large or small — requires a substantial amount of focus. Unfortunately, our work environments (as well as our home lives) are filled with distractions. Colleagues, family, friends, technology, and external stressors can make reaching your goals difficult as you spend more time bouncing from distraction to distraction rather than making actual progress.

So, is it possible to minimize distractions for a more productive and fulfilling 2024? Yes — but you need to develop a plan to do so. Here are a few of our best tips.

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The Nature of Distractions

You might be distracted by a noise outside your window, notifications on your phone, a daydream, or a worrisome thought. Whatever the case, though, distractions can stem from a few psychological roots.

Some researchers theorize that allowing yourself to be unconsciously distracted is a means of coping with anxiety or fear. Avoiding the current situation, whether it’s an unpleasant project or the fear of failure, leads to a temporary escape from discomfort. However, this distraction may result in heightened psychological distress in the future. The self-protection of the mind is truly fascinating.

Other psychologists theorize that distractions such as daydreaming, or mind-wandering are natural. However, while daydreaming about your upcoming vacation or holding an imaginary conversation may be innocent, you can lose a lot of time to these behaviors when you leave them unchecked. Psychology Today says all these distractions come with a high cost, including decreased work performance, reduced capacity for deep thought, and weakened relationships.

Self-Assessment: Recognizing Personal Distractions

If you’re determined to reduce distractions in the year ahead, you must begin your journey by first recognizing those distractions and analyzing how they’re negatively impacting you. You can’t remove the distractions if you don’t know what they are.

Think about periods over the past year when you were most distracted. Did you find that most distractions came from outside sources, such as colleagues and online notifications? Or did you find that most of your distractions stemmed from internal sources, such as whirring thoughts and anxiety? Were you most distracted when working on certain projects or in certain environments? Identify what distracts you most and keep that in mind going forward.

Strategies to Eliminate Distractions

Once you’ve identified your distractions, you can eliminate them from your environment and life.

Let’s say you recognize that you’re easily distracted by notifications. You find yourself working on a project, seeing a notification for an email pop up, and immediately stopping work to check it. Your brain tells you that this is smart multitasking and that your immediacy demonstrates your dedication to your job to others. However, by addressing those notifications immediately, you slow your progress toward or weaken the value of your higher-priority work.

The answer here is to simply remove the distraction. Prioritize the most critical task at hand — which is hardly ever going to be answering emails — and save the rest for later. Maybe you disable notifications so you can work distraction-free and then set aside time for answering emails and messages at the beginning and/or end of each day. Initially, there may be discomfort, perhaps due to concerns about being needed or important messages awaiting your attention. However, as you consistently avoid distractions, it will become easier over time.

If your distraction is internal rather than external, it might be more difficult to eliminate it. You can’t just switch off your brain. However, you can embrace mindfulness and practice being present. Focus on the here and now and nothing else. Practice it in low-stakes environments first, then work up to practicing mindfulness when you’re typically most distracted.

How to Build a Sustainable Focus Practice

Of course, all of the strategies above are easier said than done. To develop healthy habits that support your focus, you might need to set a timer each day and wait to check your notifications until the time is up. You might need to delete certain apps from your phone.

Whatever the case, leverage technology, such as the Arootah Habit Coach app, to help yourself develop these healthy habits. Additionally, utilize a support system; tell others about your steps to reduce distractions and ask them to keep you accountable.

The Art of Saying No

In some instances, reducing distractions can cause potential conflict as you learn to set boundaries and to say “no.” You may have to decline non-essential commitments or tell coworkers that you’re unavailable during certain times.

Of course, you want to avoid saying a blanket “no” to everything. Carefully evaluating opportunity costs is essential. Setting a few constructive boundaries can effectively minimize distractions. Surprisingly, those around you may not be as bothered by your boundaries as you anticipate.

The Bottom Line

The ability to remain focused and present will reap many benefits as you use your time more effectively. Place your focus where it matters, and you’ll see the most results. Cut down on unnecessary clutter in your life and your mind.

If you struggle with distractions and need help staying focused, you don’t have to do it alone. Join us on January 4th for our annual Goals & Habits Workshop to learn how you can improve this critical skill.

Get practical strategies you can apply for personal and professional growth. Sign up for The Weekly Return newsletter today.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive email communication from Arootah

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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