Have you ever worked on a project and got “in the zone”?
Being in the zone, or flow in psychological terms, is being in a mental state where you’re completely immersed and focused on the task at hand. If you’re in the creative field, you probably already know how productive you can get if you’re in the zone.
However, getting in the zone requires the elimination of distractions. So how do you get rid of distractions and get important work done? Here are a few practical ways.
When you’re working, all notifications—yes, even work emails and phone calls—are distractions. They take you away from the task you’ve set out to do at any given moment.
Turn off your notifications or use something like the iOS/macOS “Do Not Disturb” feature. Instead of being reactive to emails, messages, and other notifications, be proactive about them. Check them when you are not writing, designing, or working on something that requires your full attention.
Speaking of emails, don’t leave your email open the entire day. Any new information you get can cause you to get distracted and make you surrender your focus to the most recent bidder, rather than the most important.
In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, author Tim Ferriss recommends checking email just twice a day for a more productive life. Try getting in the habit of reading and responding to emails just once in the morning and once in the mid-afternoon.
If you work from home, family members, the TV, and even chores can be sources of distraction.
To address these, have a dedicated workspace at home—ideally one that’s behind closed doors. Place a sticky note outside the door that says, “I’m in the zone. Please don’t interrupt me.” Do the kids want to play during the day? Get up earlier and work before they wake up (or work after you put them to bed).
Clutter is a form of visual distraction. Everything in your line of sight pulls at your attention, even by just a bit, so that means seeing less means being distracted less. Clear your desk, office, counters, and even home of unnecessary items—your brain will thank you for it.
Additionally, digital clutter could also get in the way of your focus. Keep your browser tabs to a minimum, close programs you’re not using, clear your desktop and bookmarks bar, and most importantly, turn off desktop notifications. Take note of the digital triggers that vie for your attention and remove them.
Multitasking is a myth. Moving between one task to another is a self-made distraction that just keeps you from actually getting work done. Instead, make a habit of monotasking, or working on one task at a time.
Make a list of the things you need to do, in order of priority. Even if you have twenty things to do, you’ll find you can get a lot more done if you finish one task before starting another.
As Y Combinator founder Paul Graham once said, a creative person needs periods of uninterrupted hours. And because it takes time to get to that state of flow, you need be ruthless about protecting it in order to get work done. Minimize your distractions using these practical steps to enter and stay in the zone, and put out your best work.
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