Endless distractions are probably every remote knowledge worker’s kryptonite during WFH. Even pre-COVID, modern lifestyles place huge demands on our attentional resources all day–sometimes even all night.
Spending more time at home has only exacerbated the issue; more distractions means less focus, ultimately penalising job performance and productivity.
The first step to preserving enough mental resources to focus for longer periods of time is to take stock of the exact sources of distraction and the processes by which we each end up losing focus, and eliminating them.
The next step, then, involves establishing particular routines and systems that help ritualise a personal commitment to sharpening the skill of deep focus; the more accustom yourself to preserving, protecting, and entering your “deep focus” mode, the less mental effort it will take over time to really focus.
Here are a few strategies to get used to staying focused for longer periods of time while working remotely.
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As it turns out, people are working longer hours now than they were pre-pandemic. Productivity, however, has only just gone back to pre-pandemic levels. It seems that despite spending more time at their workspaces during WFH, people are less productive than before.
Distractibility is at least partially to blame for this. Without the pressure of seeing co-workers finish their work, pack up, and physically leave the office at the end of the day, we tend to be relatively more lax about how we divide our time–and, by extension, our attentional resources–over the course of the day.
To that end, integrating some form of time pressure into your daily schedule is crucial:
Among the slew of wandering thoughts that occur to us during the day, some are bound to be potentially good ideas or reminders that you might want to pursue.
The problem is, most of us allow our minds to go off on a tangent, eventually completely abandoning what we were working on to pursue these ideas. There’s a scientific reason for this: the Ziegarnik Effect, which holds that the mind will keep looping back to an unfinished task in an effort to remember it until it’s finished.
When you pursue one of these new ideas, your mind continuously remembers the task you left behind, as well as the new idea itself. Ultimately, it ensures that you stay distracted even if you eventually get back to the original task.
David Allen, bestselling author of “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, offers a simple remedy for this particular distraction conundrum.
The mere knowledge that you can pick up exactly where you left off helps neutralise the Ziegarnik effect; it signals to your brain that the unfinished task is “finished, for now” . Since that closes the mental loop, you’ll no longer be as distracted.
Mental focus is a finite resource that needs to be replenished each time it gets depleted. In other words, your brain is not built to be “in the zone” all the time.
The more you facilitate this process of attentional replenishment, the better you’ll be able to focus, and the less distracted you’ll be.