You’ve done everything in your control to stop outside influences distracting you. You’ve switched off your email and social media notifications, put up a sign near your desk so other people don’t interrupt your workflow, and even turned your phone on silent.
You sit down to concentrate on the task at hand and ping! your mind reminds you that you really should buy those batteries for the smoke detector. Ping! Must remember to make that appointment with the dentist. Ping! Must get back to Jeannine in accounting with those numbers. Ping! Ping! Ping! Your brain is in overdrive, and it’s Notifications Central up there.
So, what can you do?
How can you stop your brain from doing this, from endlessly reminding you of all the things you need to do while you’re doing something else? It's not even helpful! It’s not like you’re in the battery isle in the shop or your dentist’s office doesn’t open for another two hours. But your brain doesn’t care. It’s trying to be helpful and remind you of all the other things you need to do in life.
If this is something you can relate to, you’re not alone. Our brains aren’t always helpful. Our memory is flawed and unreliable – whether you claim to have a really good memory or not. We might remember details of all sorts of things, but we don’t always remember things when we need to. Memories pop up at all times, whenever, wherever – whether you can do something about the reminder you’re getting or not.
There are some strategies, however, that you can employ that will make it easier for your brain to keep quiet when you need it to. That’s not to say that you will never get unrelated thoughts again. Our minds are not that easy to control, but you can definitely make it a little bit quieter up there in that skull of yours.
Write EVERYTHING down
This is probably one of my top tips overall if people want to know what they can do to be better organised. If you write everything down, you are less likely to rely on just your memory to do things. This means your mind can use its capacity to turn to problem solving and creative work and you’re less likely to get those random brain notifications popping up.
Use this also to deal with those mental distractions when they do pop up. Quickly jot down the thought, then get back to work. When you’re done with your task you can then get back to your little “reminder list” and deal with them accordingly. Add them to your shopping list, to call list, to do list, etc. This way your brain can rely on the fact that the thing will be taken care of and is less likely to remind you again during the next task you’re trying to concentrate on.
Single Tasking Only
If you’re still trying your hardest to get better at multitasking – don’t. Humans aren’t good at it. Our brains don’t work that way. If we try, we end up switching rapidly between tasks. So, finish that email, finish that phone call, finish that spreadsheet, one after the other. Don’t try and do all three at once.
If you force your brain to multitask you’re making it so much easier for your mind to interrupt you. It uses those tiny gaps inbetween your task switching to insert those little mind notifications, leading you off track.
If you focus on one task at a time, you are more likely to finish it more quickly and with fewer interruptions.
Reduce your clutter
The more “stuff” there is around you, the more greater the likelihood to get distracted by it. All those items call out to your brain, reminding you of all the possible things you could do with them. This might be great to spark creativity, but not so great to actually get anything finished. If you’re trying to focus on finishing a task, have as littler clutter as possible.
Give yourself a tighter time limit
If you find yourself faffing around (yes, that’s a technical term) and getting distracted, your task might simply take less time than you originally thought. Give yourself a tighter time limit; even better, set a timer.
You could try the “Pomodoro Technique”, which will give you a 25-minute focus phase, followed by a 5-minute break. If you know you only have a certain time to finish something, your brain is more likely to leave you alone so that you can get more done within the allotted time.
If you more of a prevention-is-better-than-a-cure kind of person, give mindfulness a go. It trains your mind to really stay in the moment which is what you need for your mind to be able to fully focus on the task at hand.
How I can help
I run highly personalised team workshops as well as offer one-on-one coaching to help high achieving professionals get more of the important things done during the workday so that they can fully relax again during their evenings and weekends.