We’ve already talked about keeping your digital desktop clear, and said that you likely shouldn’t even have your phone where it can distract you in the office.
But what about the rest of the environment?
Get a small desk
The best way to avoid clutter on your desk is to have a small one. If your desk only fits your monitor and your keyboard, there is no opportunity for clutter to build up. As soon as it does your work will be physically impeded.
I need enough space for my keyboard, two monitors, laptop and my A4 Notebook. There is a space for my water bottle, but other than that there is no room to pile things on my desk.
Sometimes things do get piled there, but I’m forced to clean them up right away or I can’t work.
Outside of the desk, you work at, make sure that your workspace is neat. That means you have a tidy office, nothing piled around you to distract from the task at hand.
I’m currently in a home office so that means I make sure the closet is closed and the bed is made. I clean up any clothes that are on the floor and remove any of the kid’s toys that may have migrated there.
With that done, I’m ready to work.
Cut Audio Distractions
I work at home or at Starbucks usually. With three kids at home that means that both my environments are ripe with audio distractions.
Whether it’s the kids misbehaving, or just behaving and being loud, they can be a distraction.
At the coffee shop, it’s the sounds of people talking and coffee being made.
It can also be your phone. As I’ve said more than once, if you don’t really have cause for people to call you, then keep your phone away.
The other big tip is to wear decent noise cancelling headphones. This will do more than just reducing the distractions that can reach you. As you spend more time doing focused work with your headphones on, they’ll become a cue to do focused work.
It’s going to be a virtuous cycle of focused work.
Some of your focused work will start the day before with your planning. If you walk into your office and have no idea what you need to work on, you’re much more likely to get distracted by whatever seems urgent at the moment.
Instead, write down in a paper notebook exactly what your most important first tasks for the day are. I actually map out the projects I’ll be working on in three-hour blocks in my Bullet Journal and then stick to those items.
When I have a client project schedule for a three-hour block, I don’t have every individual task mapped out, so I then turn to my project management tool and only look at the client in question.
Workspaces for tasks
You can also use different workspaces to help you focus on the tasks at hand. I do most of my first drafts of writing in Starbucks on my iPad Pro.
I do almost all my coding at my house with three monitors.
When I get to Starbucks I’m already feeling in writing mode because it’s a cue to focus on writing. If I’m at home and need to write, I use Hazeover to help me get in the flow.
At home with my multi-monitor setup, I find it much easier to focus on the programming I need to do. Yes, it’s possible on my 13” Air at the coffee shop, but it never feels quite as productive as it does when I’m at home.
The physical space switch and break help as well. Once I’m done writing this I’ll pack my bag and run to the library to drop off a book then run the long way home. This gives me a mental break so that I’m ready to sit down and focus on my next task when I get home.
Get Others on Board
I’ve got three children aged 7, 3 and 1. Two of those kids are capable of coming up the stairs and entering my office. My wife is also capable of this.
Even if it’s just a quick run in for a hug, the change in focus is distracting.
That means we have all sat down and had multiple discussions about when it’s okay to interrupt daddy. Even with this, one of my kids is three and doesn’t get it yet so I have a hook on the door to make sure she can’t just enter the office.
I also had to get my wife on board with not putting stuff on my chair or desk. She’s a bit of a piler, and while I’ll deal with it in many areas of the house, it can’t happen on my desk.
It’s all about intention
Over the course of these three posts about focus, there is one underlying idea.
If you want to get good work done then you need to be intentional about what you allow into your spaces. If you want to only write on your iPad, don’t install applications that allow anything other than writing and researching.
If you want to cut the distractions, turn them off.
You’ll find that most of the notifications don’t matter, at least in the next hour.
With that freedom will come focus. With that focus, will come great work you can be proud of.