Nail your To-do List
Office gossip, cute cat videos, your phone.... Distractions are everywhere. Read these smart solutions for staying on track, customised to how you get derailed
Avoid the distraction trap and stay focused
THE PROBLEM: The new season of The Handmaid’s Tale – or even a load of e-mails to go through – makes the choice to put off doing dishes seem very reasonable.
WHY YOU’RE LOSING FOCUS: A lot of decisions, such as turning on Netflix, come from below your level of consciousness. And it’s up to your consciousness to convince itself that you made a good call. In other words, procrastinators are just great rationalisers. (That’ll sound much better on your CV.)
HOW TO REGAIN IT: Dilly-dalliers are more easily distracted, so steer clear of time-sucks such as your phone and TV. Then set a timer for a short period, like 10 minutes, to keep you on track. When it goes off, read an interesting article or check a few e-mails before returning to the task at hand.
THE PROBLEM: Panicking about getting everything done in a day (how is 14 hours still not enough?) prevents you from achieving your goal.
WHY YOU’RE LOSING FOCUS: Worry comes from your amygdala, the nucleus in your brain responsible for emotional responses. Those of some poor, unfortunate souls work at a higher rate than others do, so they can’t help over-worrying – whether it’s reasonable or not.
HOW TO REGAIN IT: Your brain is very flexible, and practising common meditation exercises, such as homing in on your breathing or a nearby noise, can help train it to quiet your concerns, says Miller.
THE PROBLEM: You think you’re tackling all your to-dos at once, but you’re actually wasting more time than you save. WHY YOU’RE LOSING FOCUS: Switching tasks tires out your frontal lobe (the part of your brain that helps you accomplish goals), because it keeps having to backtrack and figure out where you left off. ‘Meanwhile, there are competing goals below your level of consciousness vying for your attention,’ says Dr Earl K Miller, professor of neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Picower Institute. It’s when your frontal lobe grows weak that they sneak in and trick you into thinking they’re more important.
HOW TO REGAIN IT: Prioritise the urgent tasks, so you won’t feel pressured later on.
THE PROBLEM: During a (dreadful) morning meeting, your mind drifts to what you’re going to make for dinner. WHY YOU’RE LOSING
FOCUS: A tendency to let your mind wander might mean you have a more efficient brain. ‘Some people grasp ideas earlier than others, and their brains subconsciously direct their attention to finding new data instead,’ says psychologist Dr Eric Schumacher. HOW TO REGAIN IT: ‘As long as you get work done, you may not need to worry,’ Schumacher says. But if this habit cripples your productivity, studies show that scheduling a finite chunk of time to daydream can help you be more present when it really matters.