It’s no surprise that searches like “how to focus” and “how to concentrate better” are such popular searches on Google. We live in a world of constant distractions. Our smartphones, tablets, and computers constantly alert us to breaking news, messages from work, or updates from friends, grabbing our attention from other activities all day long. If you’re like many people, when you finally sit down to focus, it may be difficult to concentrate. Your mind wanders, you check your phone. You decide to check your email one more time. Eventually, you realize you’ve done a lot less actual work than you had planned to do.
If this sounds familiar (and frustrating), then you’re in the right place because this post is all about how to focus better in a world that’s full of distraction.
Plan Your Day To Meet Your Needs
One way to improve your focus is to plan your days. Planning may not sound exciting, but it has a lot of benefits. For one thing, if you start your day with a plan, you can jump right into the important things you need to do rather than spending time trying to figure out what needs to be done and in what order. This is one reason why some productivity experts suggest you plan your day the night before. Alternately, you can use the end of your work day to plan the next day while your progress on projects is fresh in your mind.
More importantly, careful planning ensures you take care of yourself. A common cause of distraction is unmet needs. You might notice, for instance, that your focus wanders when you get hungry, but other needs can draw your focus from work, too, such as your body’s need for exercise or your eyes’ need to focus on something further away than a computer screen. If you take those needs into account when planning your day (maybe by taking a short stroll around the office or stepping outside for some fresh air), then you’re more likely to make sure your needs are met, helping you focus better.
If planning has never been your strong suit, there are tons of apps designed to help you plan your day more efficiently. Which one is best really depends on your preferences, and thankfully, there is a lot of creativity and variety in the planning apps available today, ranging from traditional text-based planners to highly-visual planners. Here are just a few popular options to get you started.
- Trello: One of the most popular planning apps, many people choose Trello for its ease of use. Colorful and spatial, the app consists of cards in a horizontal row. You fill out the cards with projects you are working on, including lists of steps for completing each project. As you complete these steps, you can move them to new cards. In this way, one glance will show you your progress on multiple projects all at once. Best of all, you can have a personal Trello board or share boards with teams, keeping everyone on the same page. There is a free version of Trello available for individuals, as well as a free trial. Premium pricing starts at $12.50/month per user.
- Sectograph: Another visual tool, Sectograph divides each day into 24 hours, represented as slices in a circle. You can import events from other calendar tools into Sectograph and arrange them, the goal being to manage your time more efficiently. Color coding helps keep you on track, and each wedge of time can be expanded to reveal agendas, meetings, and other events. You can even program reminders so you never lose track of time. This app was designed with smartphones in mind and syncs seamlessly with Android Wear. Sectograph is available for free on Android.
- Circle Calendar: If you like the premise of Sectograph, but you’re also an Apple user, then Circle Calendar is a great choice for you. While it’s not as detailed as Sectograph, it has the same major features and arranges your schedule by segments of time in a circle. It allows color-coding, syncing across devices, and scheduling reminders. It also allows you to copy and paste parts of your schedule, which can be handy for sharing with family or friends. Circle Calendar is available in the Apple Apps store for free.
Block Distractions And Eliminate Temptation
There’s a reason our computers, phones, and watches are full of notifications. It’s not that we’re as busy or popular as we seem. Rather, the apps and websites we enjoy so much are designed to be addictive. The friendly pings and colorful notifications on our devices are engineered to draw us in and keep us engaged. In fact, these sites work so well that social media addiction has gone from being a joke to a verified illness backed by science.
Psychologists estimate that only a small number of social media users are truly addicted, however, that doesn’t mean that its addictive qualities don’t affect non-addicted people. Thankfully, there are also some great programs out there to help you retrain your brain to pay attention and block out distractions. When your self-control waivers, these apps have your back.
- Panda Focus Mode: We’re all familiar with the guilt we feel when procrastinating, but Panda Focus Mode takes that guilt and uses it to drive users to be more productive. Simply install the Panda Chrome extension, enter your to-do list, and every time you open a new tab, your browser will display your to-do list. This is a reminder of what your priorities are for the day, as well as a useful deterrent from logging into Instagram just one more time…
- Freedom: The idea behind Freedom is that many apps and websites are designed to keep you hooked on them. Using principles from psychology, they play on our emotions and brain chemistry to keep us coming back to the same sites over and over. This is where Freedom comes in. You can use this app to block websites or apps that are especially tempting for you, or you can even block the whole internet. This way, Freedom does the hard job of saying “no” for you. Available for both desktop and mobile, Freedom costs $6.99/month, $29.04/year, or $129 for a lifetime subscription.
- Forest: If you want to make focusing a little more fun, then Forest might be the app for you. Forest operates like a game: you plant a tree when you start work. As long as you work, the tree will grow, but if you stop then the tree will die. Trees take 30 minutes to fully mature, at which point you can plant another. Over time, you will build beautiful forests that blossom. Best of all, Forest partners with Trees for the Future, planting real trees around the world. Forest is available for both Apple and Android.
Calm Your Mind To Manage Internal Distractions
Distractions come in many shapes and sizes, and they could be classified many ways. But for Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, distractions come in two types: external and internal. External distractions are things outside of ourselves, such as a phone call or a notification. In contrast, internal distractions are “the uncomfortable emotional states that we seek to escape.” He offers the examples of checking Facebook when we’re lonely or skimming the news when we’re bored.
Handling internal distractions can often be more difficult than handling external distractions, especially during times of uncertainty or high stress. However, there are healthy ways of handling internal distractions, such as exercising regularly, taking time to connect with loved ones in meaningful ways, and finding ways to recharge after work and on weekends, whether that means painting a masterpiece, cooking a great meal, or even playing video games.
If you need a little help handling your internal distractions, there are also some great apps that can get you started.
- Headspace: Advertising itself as a “gym for the mind,” headspace offers hundreds of sessions on learning meditation and mindfulness. These sessions have themes like reducing stress, increasing focus, and managing anxiety. There are even courses within the app that focus intensely on specific areas, giving you the ability to really put in focused time addressing your personal weak spots. Headspace is available on Apple and Android for either $12.99/month or $95/year.
- Let’s Meditate: Similar to Headspace, Let’s Meditate is a collection of guided meditations that vary in length from 3 minutes to sessions of 30 minutes or more. Each meditation is based on a theme such as letting go of stress, summoning inner strength, or cultivating calm. The meditations feature a variety of voices and themes, and they offer sessions for beginners, experts, and everyone in between. Let’s Meditate is available on Apple for $0.99 or on Android for free.
How To Focus Better? Practice!
Ultimately, learning how to focus well is a skill. And like any skill, practice will improve your ability. It may be harder for some of us than others, but it’s a valuable ability that will improve your work performance, decrease your stress, and help you find more time for the people and activities that matter most in your life.
Want more tips on how to improve your productivity? Check out these blog posts from the TracSoft archive!
Know another great way to be more productive? Automate the small, daily tasks that steal your time! TracSoft builds custom apps that can handle the routine, mindless chores involved in running a business. Contact us today and find out how we can create a custom app to automate your tasks or seamless integrate software programs. It’s just one way that TracSoft can make your work day run smoothly.