How to stay focused in a world full of distractions

September 26, 2019 · 4 min read
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“To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing — a task that requires depth.”

As you clicked on this article when you received the notification, there are chances that you have experienced distractions at least once or twice today; before you’re done reading this article, there might have been another distraction.

Whether you’re working from your couch, your bubbling or calm office, or favourite spot, there is a possibility of getting distracted either by calls, emails, meetings, a colleague asking for help, social media notifications, office noise, and so on. Most times, these distractions are unavoidable and as such reduce your level of productivity.

With the number of network tools and social media apps, our work and personal lives are competing for our attention. We want to do great work and get amazing results but then we’re struggling to focus on these tasks.

Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, admits that “network tools are distracting us from work that requires unbroken  concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused.”

The book explains how valuable, meaningful, and rare deep work is — how one can work in a state of high concentration without distractions on tasks and why one should invest in deep work.

“Deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable. The few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

Often, some of us think that we’re doing deep work because of the amount of time we put into it but then we are working shallowly due to distractions.

As a staff of a company, an entrepreneur, or a CEO, deep work is important to help master hard things and create more quality work by focusing on tasks that matter.

Cal shared so many lessons on how to get involved in deep work but here are a few take-outs from the book.

Work deeply

Many times, some people are busy without actually knowing what they are busy doing. In the words of Cal, “in the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.”

Deep work can be achieved by following these simple rules;

  • Create a routine you want to work with and make it a habit
  • Try as much as you can to eliminate distractions
  • As much as want to do deep work, don’t work alone. It’s useful to bounce ideas off others
  • Execute like a business – track the time spent on tasks daily and strive to improve your scorecard
  • Be lazy – Allow yourself to create a shutdown routine at a particular time of the day to recharge and get the energy needed to work deeply

Embrace boredom

Some people, especially creatives, spend half of their time online — alternating between different apps per minute. Apparently, once the brain is used to on-demand distraction, it will be difficult to break the addiction even when the brain wants to concentrate.

To do deep work, it is pertinent to restrict access to the Internet then channel this moment to focus on the task at hand. No doubt, this is going to be boring but then it will rewire our brains to focus. This can be achieved by:

  • committing yourself to a hard deadline
  • training your mind to focus on the problem at hand
  • taking breaks from focus instead of taking a break from distractions

Quit social media

Has it ever happened that when you click on a social media app to check an update, the next minute you’re distracted — scrolling through feeds without remembering what exactly you were looking for? There is no doubt that social media is a huge distraction.

Cal argues that more often than not, some social media apps cause distractions especially when the workday is over because we want to get rid of boredom, which then makes it more difficult when we want to concentrate.

The book suggests that unless social media is important to your work, you should quit it. We shouldn’t use the Internet just to entertain ourselves, rather we should spend our dedicate leisure time on productive thinking.

Drain the shallows

There are some tasks we do in-between tasks — like checking WhatsApp statuses, replying DMs, sending emails, and taking calls — that have a direct impact on our major task, hence we do shallow work as a result of the distractions. Some of these tasks are somewhat important but we can set our priorities. The best way to avoid doing shallow work is by doing the following:

  • scheduling every minute of the day before the day begins
  • setting a limit for how long you want to work in a day
  • becoming hard to reach

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, a 354-page book is filled with lessons on how to fill your schedule with deep work and reduce time on shallow work; it also teaches how to be more disciplined in maximising your time on deep work.

Have you read the book? Fill us in on the lessons you learned.

Omolara Oseni

Omolara Oseni


Woman in Tech | I write about social media and internet culture | Photography enthusiast.

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