Staying focused in a world with oh-so-many distractions feels nearly impossible most days. Throughout my life, I have been impacted heavily by the values taught to me in boarding school.
As a 14-year-old, I went away to school across the country at Loomis Chaffee. It was one of the most invaluable experiences I will undoubtedly ever have, but it was one of the most petrifying aspects of my life. As a teenager in the beginning ages of iPhones and Blackberry’s, iTunes and Youtube, and so many more, tech companies were just beginning to understand how to really hook us, and get us yearning for more time utilizing their platforms.
One of the things my high school emphasized was uninterrupted bursts of time where students had no option but to put their phones outside their rooms, eliminate distractions, and move forward with their two hours of studying, uninterrupted. Painful? Yes. Effective? Also yes.
One of the tools I utilized during my time at boarding school was called “Self Control”, and its premise is exactly what it sounds like – forcing its users to have self-control. When you install the app, you can set programs and websites that it will block for a set period of time so that you are not inclined to check notifications.
Once I got into college and out into my professional career, this concept became critical to my success– I realized that I needed uninterrupted time where I was not even inclined to check different platforms. As a result, I became one of the most focused people I know. My ability to tune out the world and dive into my work is a skill I have been well-known in my community for.
So, to give you a taste of my productivity and work schedule, every day I structure my schedule accordingly:
Kick-off your day with light work
Replying to emails, getting on quick calls. Typically, my “light work” includes the items I need no support from my teammates or clients on, and things I don’t need dual monitors for.
Take a break
Then I take a quick break for breakfast, social media, and chatting with friends and family. It’s important for me to schedule in breaks or I get too absorbed in work and forget about these things – not great.
Use your morning for intensive work
I dive into my intensive work in the morning – client meetings, coding, taking detailed notes, writing contracts, or anything else that requires undivided attention for a minimum of 3 hours. For my personal workflow, the less interrupted this work is, the better the final product turns out.
Take time for intentional social media check-ins
Next, I take a 30-minute breather where I can “dink around” – I’ll check in with people, check Facebook and Instagram, and more. This is a great time to take a quick walk and give my body a stretch, too.
Dedicate afternoons for lighter work
Finally, for the last 4 hours of my workday, I focus on medium/light work – things that require attention, but don’t need every detail-oriented bone in my body. These are often tasks that do require collaboration and need to be scheduled around others.
Most importantly, though, I use these three things to stay focused every day:
1. I set my phone on “focus mode” and block programs like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Tiktok, Fantasy Football, or anything else with push notifications that might distract me from staying on top of my tasks.
2. I give myself designated time to check the things that tempt me the most. If you don’t restrict them entirely, they become less novel.
3. I play very loud music in headphones (or I sit in a dark nightclub with loud music) to help myself focus on what’s in front of me instead of letting my mind wander and to prevent looking at my surroundings. For me, having over-stimulating surroundings tends to help me zero in on what I need to accomplish.
Though everyone is different when it comes to what helps them focus, I’m a firm believer in time-blocking and teaching yourself to put away distractions voluntarily as a means of producing better, more valuable work.