There are a bazillion tech solutions that are supposed to make every aspect of life faster and easier. So why do so many people feel like technology slows them down and makes life and work harder? Trust me, I’m not immune: My business revolves around my laptop, which can be a tool of record-breaking productivity or, 16 browser tabs later, can completely overwhelm me. Oh, and can we just discuss Pinterest? Distraction City.
As the school season begins and the kids need to create good homework habits, I’ve been thinking about how difficult it is for all of us to focus with our devices, and their countless notifications and alerts, beckoning us away from our work. The Internet, with all it’s seductions, is just a click away. The best defense is to prep for distracting thoughts, apps, and urges by having a plan you can depend on in moments of let-me-just-check-Instagram-one-more-time.
Whether you’re a kid doing homework or a grown-up doing work-work, here are 7 simple tips to focused.
use noise-cancelling headphones
This is as basic as it gets but can be just what you need to drown out the noise and stay focused. Wear them on airplanes, at home, or anywhere else you want to drown out the sounds around you and focus. Noise-cancelling headphones aren’t cheap, but they are magical: A miniature built-in microphone detects ambient noise (traffic, an airplane engine, crying babies, television, etc.) and creates a sonic wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with that noise, effectively cancelling it out and making things very, very quiet. So quiet, you can hear the tick marks being made on your to-do list.
See some of my favorite noise-cancelling headphones, below:
detach from your phone (and notifications)
If you’re working hard on your computer, constant pinging from your smartphone is not going to help you stay in the zone. Put your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode, or better yet, let your phone retire to another room for a set block of time to completely remove the temptation to Snapchat, or check the news apps (again). If the device you’re working on is the culprit? Turn off notifications (instructions here for Mac, and here for Windows 10).
record reminders analog-style
Keep a “Do It Later” pad and pen at your desk so that when you have a distracting thought or think of something you forgot to do that morning, you can write it down instead of jumping on it. (Yes, googling the meme your kids wouldn’t stop talking about earlier can actually wait.)
Here are some notepads that can hold their own next to my laptop:
work in 25-minute dashes
Setting small time limits in which to stay totally dedicated to the task at hand can really improve productivity. The Pomodoro Technique, for instance, helps you create deadlines you can stick to, and stay focused. The basic premise is to set a timer for 25-minute “dashes” of work, then awards yourself a 5 minute break where you get up, stretch, or make Facebook has survived without you for nearly half an hour. When the five minutes are up? Start all over again. I find that 20 minutes with 10 minute breaks is a perfect rhythm for me to stay focused. You’d be surprised what an upcoming break does for your willingness to hunker down.
According to this eye-opening infographic from Quill, the human eye is not designed to stare at a screen for prolonged periods of time. Tell that to my propensity to lose hours scrolling through Tumblr. Squinting at your screen for hours can lead to real issues like inability to focus and headaches. If eye strain goes uncorrected, productivity can go down by 20%, so it’s nothing to turn a blind eye to (ahem). Investing in a pair of glasses with digital protection lenses can help (by filtering and reflecting the blue light devices emit). Coastal offers a digital protection coating option on their glasses, and Eyezen pairs are especially designed to soften the strain from our addictions to screens. Both offer pairs as stylish as they are effective.
If disconnecting an hour before bedtime isn’t an option for you, try downloading an app like F.Lux which eliminates the blue light that glows from computer screens. Our eyes perceive this blue light as sunlight as it suppresses our bodies’ natural production a melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel sleepy. F.lux replaces the light that emanates from our computers and tablets it with a warm light as the evening progresses, so you may find that it’s easier to ease into a restful sleep.
There’s also software like f.lux that can eliminate the blue light that glows from computer screens, and can mess with our circadian rhythms (not to mention make it hard to focus on the screen). F.lux will warm the screens tone as the evening progresses, making it easier to focus on (and easier to get to bed after a day of hard work).
breathe and meditate
Meditation is a powerful tool you can use to get centered before you sit down to work or whenever you need to refocus. And apps like Headspace make it totally doable with 10-minute guided sessions. Even simpler: experts have found that many people hold their breath while checking email. (It even has a horrible name: Email Apnea). Take a moment to focus on deep breathing on your own, or by using a tracker like Spire or Pip, or an app like Breathe that will send you reminders to inhale and exhale mindfully.
Physical activity helps both kids and grown-ups feel less fidgety. Going for a long run before a long work session can help you get your mind ready to focus, but you can also get up (between 25-minute dashes, perhaps?) and just get your blood circulating by taking a quick walk or doing simple stretches. Apps like StandApp offer suggestions for simple exercises you can do without leaving your desk, and nearly any fitness tracker will prompt you throughout the day to get up and take a hike… away from your laptop.
Here are some of my favorite trackers, all that will help you get up and go (and then return to work, super-focused):
The best part is that while all of these steps can help you increase productivity, showing them to your kids will help instill lifelong habits for responsible, productive tech use.
Do you have your own ways to stay focused? Share with me in the comments!