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Friday, 10 November 2017

PRODUCTIVITY SERIES: 1: 5 Steps To Getting Rid Of Distraction

The Productivity Series will be a sequence of five blog posts, i.e. three full length posts and two mini ones, where I discuss tips and tricks on how to improve productivity, get rid of the procrastination monster, and just Get. Stuff. Done.

1: 5 Steps To Getting Rid Of Distractions
2: 5 Free Apps That Will Make You Way More Productive.
3: 8 Ways To Stay Motivated (even when you don't want to work!)
4: 10 Quotes That Will Keep You Super Pumped!

 Yup, you read it right, we’re starting a brand new Productivity series on this blog!

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Many days ago, I posted an Instagram story about how I’d finished all my tasks way too soon in the day and had nothing left to do! The result? I got multiple DMs asking me how on Earth I managed to get everything done, well before time!

I hear you, people of the internet, and don’t you worry. As always, Srish is here to save the day(s) with super helpful advice and loads of freebies! (Yeah, I missed creating freebies as much as you missed downloading them!)

The Productivity Series will be a sequence of five blog posts, i.e. three full length posts and two mini ones, where I discuss tips and tricks on how to improve productivity, get rid of the procrastination monster, and just Get. Stuff. Done. These are the exact methods I used back at University, and even now in my blog and business strategy, and I’m 100% sure they will help you be so much more productive. In fact, these methods are the reason I have a steadily increasing audience and have been able to transition to two blog posts per week with absolutely no stress!

So grab a cup of coffee or tea or some good ol’ OJ, and let’s do this!

5 steps to increasing productivity by getting rid of distractions + free workbook!

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For our first post, we’re going to tackle the timeless (pun totally intended) beast that has plagued entire generations of thinkers – Distraction™. Through this post, I will address Distraction as an entity that speaks with the voice of an annoying frenemy who is bent on seeing you fail. You know whom I’m talking about. You know whom that looks like.

Yup, we’re jumping right into the crux of the matter, so get ready for some harsh truths and serious coping strategies.

Distraction is usually difficult to cut out entirely because it comes in so many different forms – your family just happens to need favours when you’re trying to read for your finals, your dog just  happens to poop on your favourite rug when you’re brainstorming a paper (this is inspired by real-life events, by the way) or your neighbour’s child just happens to throw a temper tantrum when you’re busy with your freelance writing gig.

Distraction is virtually unavoidable.

However, I like to take a completely different approach to getting rid of Distraction, and that is to see it for what it is.

1.     Your Mindset

The way I see it, Distraction is more a mental block than intrusions from external sources. I think that when we begin working on something, the entire world around us is pretty much the same, but somehow, mundane occurrences seem to affect us a lot more than usual. Now I don’t mean to blame you for all the little things that get in the way of your work, all I’m saying is that a subtle shift in mindset can turn these distractions from annoying to insignificant.

So the first step to take is to change how we approach our work. When I begin a task, no matter how small, I consciously tell myself, “I intend to finish this task easily and well before time.”

The best way to pre-program your mind is to give it realistic measures of progress. Here’s an example. Today, I’m working on a long blog post, about three days before it needs to be published. I know that the post is going to be well over a thousand words long, so I break it down into a five-point list. On average, I take about three hours to write the entire post, which gives me about half an hour per point, plus an extra half-hour for the introduction and conclusion.

Now, my mind knows that in every half hour block, it needs to write out one point on the list, and that gives it the two things it needs to complete any task – a quantitative outcome, and a deadline. As a result, my mind sets itself into gear immediately, and guess what! I’m about forty-five minutes into this task, and I’ve already got my introduction and first point down!

So, our first action step is to program our minds with a measurable outcome, which we need to achieve by a pre-planned deadline.

2.     Cutting out Visual Distractions

Here’s a fun brain fact for you – about half of all your nerves (i.e. the main stuff that makes up your brain) has something to do with vision. About 40% of your nerves are linked directly or indirectly to your retina.

Even without these (super cool) scientific facts, it’s pretty obvious that a large chunk of the information our brains receive comes from what we see. So clearly, it is incredibly easy to be affected by visual distractions.

Here’s the thing – visual distractions aren’t always noticeable. It could be something as simple as your desktop background, or a brightly coloured object in your periphery, or even just curtains that are constantly moving with the breeze. All these little things may take up tiny spaces in your attention span on their own, but add them all up and you have a giant proportion of your focus being taken up by our old friend, Distraction.

Visual distractions can also be ridiculously subtle things like the font you’re typing in, the visual layout of the paper you’re trying to understand, or the language and tone of an article (though technically this is more about your perception of what you see). I’m not telling you this to make you anxious and paranoid about every little thing you’re seeing, it’s just food for thought! If you can’t identify just what is distracting you, these might be some places to look.

So how do we cut out major visual sources of Distraction?

Begin by setting up a specific study space (everyone who loves alliteration say ‘Aye’!). Your study – or work – space will be your new sanctum sanctorum. You must be ruthless about filtering out every visible object in this space.

If it’s not absolutely essential to your work, it needs to go!

Be completely and fearlessly honest with yourself.
Do you really use those fluorescent highlighters, or are they just there to make you feel like you’re doing something useful?
Do you need a thousand different colours of post-its?
I mean this literally. Don’t throw out anything that you do actually use, just because it’s brightly coloured! At the same time, don’t keep anything in your sacred work space that you find yourself constantly, mindlessly staring at.

Another major (and surprisingly common) thing that I absolutely cannot stand is having a thousand tabs open on Chrome (or any other web browser), especially if those tabs are completely irrelevant to my work. If I must have more than one tab or file open, I prefer to work on a large screen, and I open them in separate windows, tiled next to each other. In fact, I highly encourage using separate windows when working on an essay that requires constant reference to other articles and resources. Trust me, switching between tabs - or worse, having to find a tab out of a bunch of others - takes up a surprisingly large amount of time and attention!

So to sum up step two, if you find yourself staring or constantly glancing at something for no reason, get rid of it!

3.     Cutting out Noise.

In my final year at University, I was unlucky enough to live right next door to a couple of noisy first-years with even noisier friends. These girls were absolutely horrid, singing at the top of their lungs in the middle of exam season, then picking fights when asked to keep it down.

Noise distraction is real.

In fact, I’d argue that it is the most common form of Distraction that every single person deals with while trying to get some work done. Personally, I’ve also found myself to be way more sensitive to noise when I’m anxious – almost as if things are even louder when my heart rate is 120.

The first step to cutting out noise is something I highly recommend – approach your work with a calm mind. I know this is easier said than done, trust me, but it is absolutely necessary. I always take at least five minutes out to meditate before I start my work.

No, I don’t want you to sit cross-legged and chant ‘Om’. Simply sit in a comfortable position and focus only on taking slow, deep breaths. When you force your body into a relaxed state, your mind will follow. There are several videos and apps that help you relax and feel centered with guided meditation, but if you’re not into the whole “mysterious whispery voice” thing, that’s cool too. All you need to do is try and find complete silence and stillness.

Once your mind is settled, take note of all the sounds you can hear, and consider how you can cut them out. I loved my foam earplugs through college, because I find that I work best in absolute silence when I can actually hear my thoughts. However, the kind of quiet that earplugs create can be jarring for some people, in which case I definitely recommend getting a white noise app or audio track.

My favourite app is Tide, which is my life-blood at the moment! There are a couple of different audio tracks, and it comes with an in-built timer that you can set. I love the Café setting - I’m not exactly sure why, but I find myself to be most productive when hearing the sounds of cups clinking and chairs being dragged and mindless chatter. However, when I’m reading and trying to absorb new information, I much prefer the Rain track. I’ve found my body instinctively relaxing upon hearing the rain. In either case, Tide is free on the app store, so I highly recommend it! (No, this is not an affiliate or sponsored link, I’m literally using Tide as I type this post out right now!)

4.     The People-problem

This is my personal Kryptonite – I absolutely cannot function around people. My social anxiety flares up, and my mind instantly turns to jelly. This is the reason I can never use study spaces or libraries to do any work in. It just doesn’t work.

I’ve spent most of my academic life holing myself into a quiet room with a locked door. Yes, it’s lonely at times, but I’d rather get a lot of work done quickly and then go hang out with my friends or family!

However, as someone who now works from home (more specifically, my parents’ home), I have no control over the people at home during my working hours. Add to that an overly clingy dog (which is flattering, but also quite distracting) and you have a recipe for zero work.

Here’s something I constantly remind myself: there is NO shame in asking for alone time.

Yes, it might be difficult for people to understand why you can’t work and hold conversation at the same time, but they aren’t the ones who need to deal with the consequences of late or sub-par work.  It is absolutely okay to ask to be left alone – in a nice way, of course – because people can be incredibly distracting! It’s all about your priorities – would you rather stop your work to do someone a favour, just for a few minutes of appreciation? To me, that’s a firm no, especially if I’m on a deadline.

I’m not telling you to be rude and scream at people around you to get away (though I’m sure that’d work like a charm), but in order to be productive, you need to be assertive. This goes back to my first point about affirming your tasks beforehand – part of your affirmation is a pledge to yourself to get this task done, and anything that gets in the way (Mum included) is a distraction!

My favourite way to stop people from interrupting me during work hours is to have visible headphones on, and sit facing a wall. Not only does this show everyone around you that you are not approachable at the moment, but it also means that you are way less distracted staring at the wall, instead of paying mind to what’s going on around you! I call that a win!

5.     Creating a Distraction-Free Plan.

Finally, we need to put all our thoughts together to create a master plan that will stop Distraction in its tracks! To help you get started, I've put together a free and quick three-page printable on setting up the ever-so-sacred workplace, and how to put all your sources of Distraction down on paper, then work systematically to destroying them. 

We then go on to make a realistic plan of the days and hours with the least amounts of Distraction, so we can be a whole lot more productive!

5 steps to increasing productivity by getting rid of distractions + free workbook!


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Of course, you can easily recreate the document in a handy notebook, it doesn't have to be printed, but you should definitely give it a go! I promise it will help!

So to summarize, here are the five things you should consider while trying to conquer Distraction:

  1. Approach your work with a healthy, determined mindset.
  2. Eliminate visual distractions.
  3. Figure out your best option for coping with noise.
  4. Where possible, avoid unnecessary human interaction while working.
  5. Create a realistic, practical Distraction-free plan to help implement the above points.

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I hope you've found this post helpful, and that it boosts your productivity massively! Please do let me know what you think of this new series, and this first segment in the comments below!

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5 steps to increasing productivity by getting rid of distractions + free workbook!

Other posts in this series:

As always, thank you ever so much for reading, and I'll see you guys very soon!

All my love,

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