At last, a way to conquer distractions once and for all, and it will only set you back $39. Enter, the productivity hood from OstrichPillow: popped over the head it blocks your peripheral vision to help you focus on the task at hand. Think horse blinkers, only for humans.
Not convinced? How about an app that bribes you to stay focused by appealing to your greenest self? Forest invites you to plant a tree and, eventually, to grow a forest. Stick with your task and your trees will flourish, but leave the app to do something else, and they will wither and die. Completing a task earns you virtual coins, which can be spent on planting real trees.
Or perhaps you suspect a vitamin deficiency might be to blame for your wandering attention? Neuro Gum, a chewy tablet formulated with “natural caffeine, L-theanine, and B-vitamins”, promises to help sharpen the mind and help you concentrate.
If you’re really desperate–and you have $5,000 a month to spare–you could even follow in the footsteps of Meta employee Simon Berens, who hired people to sit behind him, watch him work, and make him lunch (yes, really).
All this points to one conclusion: that we really have reached peak distraction. So much so that people are desperate for quick and easy fixes to stop their attention lapsing, or being stolen.
We’re set up to fail of course. The ping of a notification, a phone ringing, and the lure of social media, a podcast or a puzzle at our very fingertips. It’s a wonder we ever get any work done at all.
According to Dr Jennifer Chain, licensed psychologist and owner of mental health practice Thrive For The People, modern distractions are so seductive because they’re “designed to be that way”. She adds: “Some of the smartest people in the world are hired by tech companies to get you to click on their app, alert, or advertisement. It is not your fault that you are falling for these distractions.”
Giving in might seem harmless or even necessary. After all, the email that just landed in your inbox could be really important. But it comes at a cost.
Speaking on a recent podcast episode, Gloria Mark, PhD, author of Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness, and Productivity, explained that there is a “switch cost” every time we shift our attention from one thing to another. This is the mental effort and time it takes to reorient back to the previous activity every time our focus has shifted elsewhere. The more you shift your attention around, the more performance slows, the more errors are made. Even your blood pressure rises, indicating you’re more stressed, explained Mark .
Yet, it’s easy to see why we cave to distractions, particularly if we’re struggling with something that’s complex, tricky or just a bit boring. In that moment, the emotional reward of scrolling through social media posts, making another cup of coffee, or even just checking your inbox is preferable, and a quick dopamine hit is guaranteed.
On TikTok, the #dopaminedetox trend is all about trying to wean yourself off the feel-good buzz that your favored distraction sparks. Advocates recommend putting a ban on, for example, social media, for a whole day or a week or more.
The trouble with this is you’re very likely to fail. Remove social media apps from your phone and you’ll only find yourself accessing them via your desktop instead, and often without remembering how you got there.
How to deal with distractions
Instead, we have to fundamentally change the way we deal with distractions by first learning to recognize them for what they are.
This requires some unavoidable inner work and creating new habits that will help build more resilience to distractions in the long term.
- Learn to recognize the sensation of your focus being tugged in a different direction. It can help to approach tasks mindfully. If your mind wanders, observe it and bring it back.
- If it keeps happening, stop and ask yourself what is really going on. Are you actually hungry or tired, and in need of a break? Sometimes the signal that our attention is dwindling is really prompting us to tend to our needs. Often, though, the signal is faulty. There’s nothing else that really needs our attention at all. It’s simply an act of self-sabotage.
- Confront the distraction head on. Consider, what will happen if you give in to it now? How will you feel in 30 minutes’ time? On the other hand, what will you gain by resisting it and sticking to the job?
Making the choice to work isn’t easy when instant gratification lies seconds away. But, with practice, the process of cultivating awareness and actively overcoming temptation will become more of a habit.
There are also huge rewards in mastering the art of laser-focused productivity: getting more done in less time gives you more time to spare. Give into distractions and your working day becomes so much longer. It helps to remind yourself of this.
Of course, making sure you structure your day in a sensible way will tip the balance in your favor when it comes to winning these mini battles. Ideally, decide what you’re going to tackle that day the evening before. Don’t take on too much and plan breaks.
Try the Pomodoro method–which involves working on a task for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break–to help you keep up a good pace throughout the day.
During these bursts of work, minimize the risk of distractions by leaving your phone on silent mode, in a different room, and logging out of social media accounts on your computer.
And keep in mind the real, substantial benefits of completing your work. For example, finishing that business plan will get you one step closer to launching your own company.
With time, you can train your brain to get satisfaction from your productivity gains.