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Distraction is the modern day equivalent of avoiding the dangerous or unknown in ancient times. Uncertainty makes you feel anxious. Anxiety urges you to do something — most often that is to gather information. Your brains quickly learns that distraction is a pretty solid alternative.


What can you do when every time you sit down at your desk, you feel distracted?

Are you stuck in the anxiety-distraction feedback loop?

Start by understanding the impact distractions, like a constantly pinging phone or even a quick Twitter break, have on your brain. When you find yourself distracted, use a simple breathing exercise to break the immediate cycle of anxiety and frustration.

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Think about how you want to act as a colleague and a leader and let that self-image guide your behavior. And be mindful of whom you spend time with. Because of social contagion, colleagues who are overwhelmed and distracted are likely to make you feel the same way.

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Try to make your relationships supportive: Ask coworkers for advice and commit to keeping each other on task. Take breaks, eat healthily, and get sleep. How can you get back to feeling focused and productive?

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Especially because most of us are constantly bombarded by news alerts, text messages, and other interruptions. To overcome this and regain your focus, take the following steps. Understand the dangers of multitasking Start by understanding the impact that distractions, like a constantly pinging phone or quick Twitter break, have on your brain. Fernandez explains that we have a network of brain structures related to focus.

Strategies to redirect your thoughts and distract your mind

But when you need to focus your mind, you tap into the direct attention networkwhich allows you to put aside ruminations and stay on task. Distractions, in whatever form they take, pull you back into default mode, and the cognitive cost of regaining your focus is high. Allow for your emotional response, but stay in charge Feeling overwhelmed can bring up a lot of emotions — frustration, anger, anxiety — that take a further toll on your productivity.

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David says that concentrating on your values gives you a sense of control. If one of your core values is to be collaborative, focus on that. How can you help people feel like part of the team?

How can i distract myself?

Put up boundaries Once you have more awareness about what distracts you, set rules for yourself. You also have to practice. Choose whom you interact with wisely Social contagion is real. The same goes for productivity.

Are you stuck in the anxiety-distraction feedback loop?

If you have colleagues who are constantly distracted themselves, or who tend to pull you away from work, try to spend less time with them. I want to get this report done and then I can take a break. Give and get support from your colleagues Instead of avoiding your distracted colleagues, you could try to encourage each other to stay focused.

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Make a pact with your coworkers. Set up a time where you will work without interrupting each other or without getting on social media or Slack. The team I work with at HBR deated Thursday afternoons as uninterrupted work time after listening to this podcast. You can take this collegial support one step further and actively support each other.

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Take breakseat a healthy lunchput your phone on silent. Case Study 1: Schedule time to focus Over the past year, Emily Lin, a vice president at a financial services company, had a lot on her plate.

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She was building her private coaching practice and had received a promotion at work. Because of the expanded scope of her responsibilities, she was dealing with a whole host of new distractions.

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Emily was having trouble getting her work done. And it was affecting her mood. I was becoming very short-tempered with my coworkers. She had ly learned to set boundaries for herself around social media by scheduling in time for distractions.

Distract yourself in healthy ways

It might be a minute break between meetings or while I was waiting for the elevator to go to lunch. She did something similar to address the work interruptions: allow herself time to read and respond to messages, but only after getting her most important work completed. Two hours seems to be the right amount of time, she says. She points out that getting more sleep has also helped her resist distractions.

Distractions can make us better

A few years ago she was only sleeping three or four hours a night, but she has drastically revamped her sleep schedule and is now getting from six and a half to seven hours a night. Case Study 2: Set boundaries Sarah Taylor not her real namean HR manager at an international humanitarian organization, struggled to stay focused at work for several months before and after the U. She saw a reference to StayFocusda browser extension that sets time limits for selected websites.

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She checked online reviews and saw that it had helped others like her, so she decided to try it out. You have 1 free article s left this month. You are reading your last free article for this month.

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Subscribe for unlimited access. Stress management. Simple ways to regain your focus.

What to do when a distraction becomes a lifestyle

on Stress management or related topics Personal productivity and Time management. She writes and speaks about workplace dynamics.

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Watch her TEDx talk on conflict and follow her on Twitter at amyegallo. Partner Center.

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If you are finding it difficult to process what you're going through, you might prefer to shift your attention onto something else for a while.


Your ability to stay focused is more than just a worthwhile thing to cultivate--it's a critical factor in your success or failure.


What can you do when every time you sit down at your desk, you feel distracted?


I think it was Leo Babauta who first introduced me to the idea.