We’re easily distracted.
The phone rings. A co-worker drops by. The neighbors chat loudly. Unfortunately, with so many attention-grabbing interruptions, staying focused at work can become its own job.
Many workshifters stand by the virtues of the home workspace, which can help alleviate many of these concerns (while admittedly adding others). But what if you’re stuck on a train or plane? Or changing things up with a café visit?
These settings can’t be controlled nearly as well. Many offices are designed to minimize noise, but public transit and your local eatery surely are not. So how do you cope?
The next time you’re working away from both the office and home, don’t worry about relocating to avoid distractions. Here’s what you can do instead.
Interrupt your interruptions.
With so many diversions readily available for your attention-stealing pleasure, you shouldn’t be adding more to the mix.
Although I’d love to press mute on the overly chatty preteen in the corner, I make do with silencing what I’ve brought with me. A recent study found that out of the top 5 daily interruptions, 4 were technology based.
This makes the solution simple: shut the phone off or leave it on silent and inconveniently far away. Turn off those email alerts that peek in every time you’re just getting into your groove. (You can designate specific times to check email instead.) Download software that prevents you from falling into a Twitter or Facebook binge by blocking the sites entirely.
Please don’t stop the music!
Pick a favorite Pandora station, throw on some headphones and let the music drown out the distractions.
But Nik, you might say, isn’t the music itself distracting? Not if you’ve got the right genre playing, my dear reader. As much as you might be into Scandinavian death metal (warning: turn down your speakers), the more subdued, atmospheric and instrumental the song is, the more it can help you tune in and then tune out.
The research proves it, too. Productivity-hindering background chatter can be successfully brushed off with background music.
Reel your mind back in.
Good concentration is hard to hold. Looking out the window or eavesdropping on a stranger’s conversation is just so easy in comparison. But if you want to be able to work anywhere, you need to train your focus just like any other skill.
You may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique and time-boxing before, which work by compromising with your diversions. But if you still can’t concentrate, studies have shown that practicing simple meditation-based breathing can help you build focus and ignore distractions.
To do this, breathe deep belly breaths with your eyes closed. As you go, pay attention to your breathing and whenever you catch your thought train leaving the station, pull the emergency cord and hop off. Refocus on your breathing.
Practice this whenever you get the time. Eventually, you’ll start noticing your mind wandering in other situations like conversation or work, and you will be able to just reel yourself back in.
Next time you have trouble concentrating at the café, give these tips a try. You may find that you can work just as well as you do in your normal office.
Photo credit: nicholasjon