Can't Focus? The 5 Stupid-Simple Tricks To Deal With Distractions


Since I get various forms of this question emailed to me each week, I thought I’d share (with permission, of course)

Dear Amita,

Help! I want to be productive, but I keep getting distracted. I check my email and suddenly an hour’s passed and all I have to show for it is a million open browser tabs (with articles I’ll probably never read), screenshots of memes, and a half-written email. What can I do to stay focused and actually get shit done?

-Cara, Florida*

Cara, you're not alone.

The black hole of the Internet has sucked the life (and hours) out of all of us. While you can’t make the World Wide Web disappear, you can take a few precautionary steps to stop getting caught in it. Let’s break down your question:

1. Define Productivity

When you say you want to be “productive,” what does that really mean? Most people sit at their desk thinking “it's time to do work” without any real action plan for what they’ll get done. It’s easy to distract ourselves or avoid starting an unknown, undefined, or unwanted task. Simply put, No plan = No work.  

2. Limit your Email

Checking email isn’t the same as working. Sure, it feels like work, but it doesn’t equate to productivity. The click-bait headlines tempting us to waste time/money is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is the false sense of direction our inbox provides. We see an unread message and think we need to take action, forcing us to sacrifice our priorities. Inadvertently, we address the urgent rather than the important. To combat this, only check your email after you’ve created your plan. Then, close/silence your email and adjust your plan only if absolutely necessary.

3. Shut it Down

Open tabs are distracting and overwhelming. Instead, bookmark them or copy the link to a document/virtual post it. Then, close down all tabs you aren't ACTIVELY using.

4. Live a Little

Memes are hilarious and oddly empathetic to the human experience. Make time for breaks. You’re a human, not a robot.

5. Break it Up

One of the many reasons we feel overwhelmed is because we add things to our To-Do list rather than taking immediate action.  This was a major pitfall for me until I began using the 2-minute rule: If a task (or email, in your case) takes less than 2 minutes, don’t push it off. Act now! If it takes longer or feels intimidating, break it down into bite-sized, actionable items. Not only will it be easier to start tasks and take consistent action, you’ll feel less stressed and more motivated.

If you spend more time on distractions than you do on work, check out these psychology-backed tweaks to jumpstart your focus and productivity. 

(I post this cheat sheet above my desk…just in case!)

How I Stopped My ADHD From Sabotaging Me

When my friends come to me for advice and I give it to them, I often hear:

  • Oh, that won’t work because… 
  • I tried something like that once… 
  • or my personal favorite, I don’t have enough time 
    (Really? Cause Facebook told me you were up til 1 playing Candy Crush, Seriously?!)

And despite my frustration, I am the first to admit that just like them, I can rationalize and find an excuse for anything I don’t want to do. Like most people, I'm only ready to change when there's a good enough reason to do so. And it doesn't just have to be a rock-bottom. When I have a goal I'm super excited about, I’m willing to do what it takes. I’m willing to stop self-sabotaging, take a good look at myself, and clean house. Literally.

And that gets me to today's topic.

A lot of people write in and ask me about how I started Aligned Holistics. These readers fall into 2 camps:

  1. They want to know all the juicy details of how I healed my Depression, ADHD, etc.
  2. They want to pursue a goal (like a business), but can’t seem to find the time to make it happen.

The truth is that to some degree, the two go hand-in-hand. See, a lot of creating a life I love (& getting off the meds!) was creating systems that supported that. Whether it be self-care, organization, or time management, I needed to create structure to get out of my own way and let the magic happen.

I could write an entire book on how to start a business doing what you love (note to self-do that!) But since blogs are about brevity, I want to share the top 3 tips that helped me to succeed.

3 Tips to Make It Happen:

1. Organize your space.

Back when my ADHD was running the show, I spent way too much time sorting through papers, looking for keys, and getting distracted by items strewn on my countertop. My disorganized space led to a pervasive low-level anxiety that made my home a stressful work environment. Not surprisingly, with all the reminders of things that needed to be put away (without a place to put them), I didn’t get much done. So I met with an ADHD coach (yes, even coaches need coaches) and this was the first thing she told me.

Where to start: Create an exit station. Located near your door, this centralized location should house your keys, sunglasses, wallet, mail, gym pass, etc. It should be home to everything you'd grab on your way out the door. I also use it to post affirmations or intentions so I have a positive note to start my day.

2. Throw things out.

I'm sure you've heard this before, but it bears repeating until you get rid of that sweater you haven't worn in a year, the papers you could have scanned and trashed, and the broken belt that you swear you'll get fixed but haven't yet. If it's taking up space in your home, it's taking up space in your mind. For many years I held onto things for "sentimental value." And then I realized that the item is not the same as what it represents. For example, last week I got a thoughtful card from a friend. Today I threw it out. That It doesn't mean that I don't value the person who sent it to me, it just means that NYC real-estate is at a premium and so is my mental capacity. To make this easier (and eliminate any guilt you may feel), snap a picture with your phone first.

Where to start: If you haven't used it in the past year, throw it out.

3. Pick 3 wins.

If I could give any piece of advice to my fellow entrepreneurs, it would be this: Pick the 3 things you MUST accomplish for the day and prioritize them. When I work with my 1-on-1 clients, I'm often asked, "But how do I know which 3 to pick? Why only 3?" Since my clients and I set goals together, I respond by teaching them to filter their actions by looking at their to-do list and saying "Will this action get me closer to or further from my goal?" If it gets you to your goal, it makes the cut. I always say start with 3 small wins. Anything you do after that is extra credit. 

Where to start: Each morning, complete the following sentence, "If I only get these 3 things done, I'll feel good about what I accomplished today." Then, do them!

Got any burning questions about Procrastination, Prioritization or Time Management? Check this out.

I'm giving away one of the BEST tools I use with my VIP clients "How to Prioritize Your Goals & Still Have a Life!"