You’re constantly being bombarded by distractions in various forms.
Do you ever go into a room and can’t remember why you’re there?
What about picking up your phone with a goal in mind that you’ve completely forgotten about five seconds after you picked it up?
Let’s explore how to remain focused in a distracted world…
Interruptions vs. distractions
There are interruptions in life, and then there are distractions. They are similar, yet different. Let’s look at the definitions of these two words.
Interruption: “something that causes a stoppage or break in the continuity of something.”
Distraction: “an object that directs one’s attention away from something else.”
An interruption tends to just happen to you whether you want it to or not.
You are working on paying your bills when suddenly your smoke detector goes off. This is not something that you chose, but rather something that happened that causes a break in your focus and task. It is highly unlikely you could have ignored that interruption to continue working.
A distraction is often something you choose or allow.
Let’s go back to the bill paying example. While you are trying to pay your bills, you discover you need to do a bit of research to look up a charge. At that moment, you see someone is sending you Facebook messages. If you click over and begin reading and messaging back, it has become a distraction that has taken your attention off of your task.
You can’t always choose when you are interrupted by various things, people, or events. Interruptions are often forced on us. Distractions are an ongoing temptation to turn your attention toward something else. They are increasingly appealing when you are working on a monotonous or difficult task.
Children can be a source of both interruptions and distractions. If you have young children, you may notice it is particularly difficult to focus and complete a task due to the many needs of children. If that’s you, let me tell you that in time it does get easier.
Impact of technology
Before we can talk more about how to focus in a world full of distractions, we have to address the impact of technology.
How many tabs do you currently have open on your phone or computer? I currently have 22 windows open. Each one serves as a reminder of something I need to get done. However, they can also serve as an easy distraction away from what I should be focusing on. We have distractions within our distractions.
Our phones have become a source of almost constant distraction.
How often are you spending time with people when either you, or they, are distracted by their phone or watch? It’s all too common to have two people both on their phones, distracted from the real-life person in front of them.
Social media and our phones are designed to addict us.
Chemicals release in our brains every time we check our phone and see a new message or new likes. We’re constantly seeking this approval rather than focusing on the life that is happening right before our very eyes.
Television shows and commercials move at a faster pace than ever before to keep our attention.
If you compared modern-day children’s shows with the pacing of Mr. Rodgers, you would notice a significant difference. And we wonder why kids are having trouble focusing and are easily distracted. What they watch is encouraging a shorter and shorter attention span. How can we expect them to remain focused in a distracted world?
The impact of distractions
Clutter is a distraction, and it comes in various forms. Clutter isn’t just the items in your home.
Mental and emotional clutter may be a little harder to see, but are very real. In my post, what simplicity looks like, I talk about 6 different types of clutter. All of them lead to distraction FROM living your best life.
Have you ever stopped to think how happy the enemy is when we are simply distracted constantly? He doesn’t have to use obvious tactics to keep us from living the life God intended for us. As long as we’re staying distracted with anything that keeps us from pursuing God and His calling in our lives, he is happy.
I’m not sure how that sits with you, but it makes me very uncomfortable. There is a quote from C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters that is powerful:
“I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” -C.S. Lewis
Download the free printable quote here.
I don’t want to waste my life on things that don’t matter.
Distractions keep us from living our purpose.
They may also keep us from finding joy and peace in our lives.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself feeling sad and anxious after spending too much time reading news articles. Distractions keep us from healthy relationships and communicating with the people who are in front of us.
They keep us from being productive and effective.
They prevent us from living the full and abundant life that God intended.
How to focus in a world full of distractions:
- Create awareness
- Learn to focus
- Practice slowing down
- Impose technology boundaries
In order to work on something, you first need to be aware of the extent of the problem. As you go work on a task at home or at work, begin to notice how often you are tempted to engage in a distraction. A poll a few years ago found that 95% of people are distracted at work. And the other 5% are lying. Just kidding on the last part. I made that up. But I do think it is nearly impossible to not have distractions occur while you are at work.
We are distracted people, and we are so used to it that it feels normal. Before we can work on fighting it, we need to see how we are being impacted.
- When and where are most of your distractions occurring?
- Are there any triggers or scenarios which cause you to feel more distracted?
- What are you most distracted by?
As you begin to take notice, you might be a bit surprised at what you find. It’s interesting how when we start to look for something, we may discover more of it than we ever realized.
The key is how you handle the distractions when they arise. Do you spend time looking on social media when you have an important task you are supposed to be working on? Do you take that time to find someone to talk to, all in an effort to avoid your work and provide yourself a distraction? If so, it’s time to stop.
If you want to learn how to focus in a world full of distractions, you will need to figure out how to shut down distractions. Intentionally focusing will take effort. It won’t come naturally when you are used to being distracted. But if you want to be productive and do your best work, you will need to focus.
That means not allowing distractions to derail you. Yes, do take breaks, but when you are supposed to be working on something, give all of your attention to it. You will need to be disciplined to maintain your focus.
For some people, slowing down is hard.
If you are a type A driven person (ahem, me), relaxing and trying to do less is a challenge. I’m more comfortable working and producing. I like to see tangible results of the work I have done, whether that be a clean counter top or publishing a new blog post.
Slowing down doesn’t always allow you to see results the same way. Living a healthy, balanced, grateful, and present life isn’t always able to be measured or calculated. We need to take breaks from all the distractions. In my post, 12 ways to slow down, I talk about some simple ways to do that.
You’re more likely to be distracted if you’re running low on energy. Getting enough rest and taking care of your body will help you keep your focus in a world full of distractions.
Phones may be the biggest source of distraction in many of our lives. When we keep them next to us constantly, we are bound to be distracted. Come up with some self-imposed boundaries on phone usage at home. Decide where and when to have phones put away. Don’t bring phones to the table during meal times. In order to learn how to focus in a world full of distractions, you’ll need to practice putting your phone down.
Set up your own personal limits on your phone. Delete apps that have become problematic. Turn off notifications. Treat the people in front of you as more important than the beeps and buzzes of the phone. Show how you value family members by making them a priority and limiting distractions. Be present in the life that you are living now.
When we learn to focus in a world full of distractions, we will be more productive and effective. It is then that we can keep our eyes on our goals and dreams and pursue our calling. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it.