How to Be Productive in the Age of Distraction

Mobile phones, social media, college friends and colleagues – there are so many offline and online distractions that can stop you from doing what’s important and urgent. You’ll send a tweet, check out the tagged photos on Facebook, talk on the phone with your friend, before you know you’ve been distracted from an important assignment for a couple of hours.

Despite this, there are ways to be productive in the apparent age of distraction today.

Distraction can happen both offline and online. Let’s first look at the offline activities that lead to distraction:

Productivity Killer #1: Offline Distractions

1. Friends and Colleagues

Everyone enjoys the company of friends. However, if your friend pops up at any hour to take you along, this will be a distraction. You’re likely to go along and say ‘I’ll just finish it later’. This will make you lose focus on the important task.

2. Lunch

People like to discuss while they eat, and this makes for a long conversation. Instead of staying at the cafeteria for 20 minutes or so, some of you may end up for 40-50 minutes while you discuss!

3. Multiple tasks

Should you do the thesis first, or focus on the presentation? Focusing on multiple offline activities at the same time is a known cause of distraction.

4. Anger and ego

Anger can easily distract you from seeing the ‘bigger picture’. You may get angry about life in general, your teacher, your partner etc. And if you’re overconfident, and believe that you can’t make a mistake, you’re distracting yourself. Both anger and ego are going to shorten your attention spans.

5. Smartphones and tablets

This may sound counterintuitive as mobile devices are known to boost productivity, but they can also easily get you distracted. There is always a new app to explore or game to play. You spend a lot of time in checking them out, forgetting that you had something important to do.

Coming over to the online distractions, they have had a greater impact in the age of technology. Here are some of them:

Productivity Killer #2: Online Distractions

1. Social media

Social media sites waste a lot of time. For example, you log on Facebook to update the day’s status, and end up commenting on someone else’s posts via news feed. The result, an hour has passed. You can go on Pinterest to pin something, and end up looking at what others have pinned. Social media is a known distraction for students.

2. Online games

Online games are also a known cause of distraction. You can get addictive to playing a level, trying to beat high scores etc.

3. Online shopping

You see that new offer on the side bar in your e-mail, or on a social network, and you rush to Amazon, e-bay or any other online store-front to check it out. Reading comparisons, reviews, ratings, etc. can get you easily distracted.

4. Surfing

Instead of searching something important, you may see an interesting website and get involved in what it has to offer.

Now that you know the common online and offline activities that are a cause of distraction, here is what you can do for increasing your focus and productivity.

How to Be Productive in Face of Distraction

1. Do attention management

You have to manage your attention. Creating a ‘to-do’ list won’t simply do the job. Consider the level of focus each task will require. After determining the level, you have to schedule them accordingly. A wise thing to do is to focus on the high-attention requiring tasks (an example is doing your thesis) during the concentration hours of the day. Keep a timer for less important tasks such as checking E-mails and Facebook.

2. Don’t spend too much time on reflection

People like to reflect on activities carried out during the day. However, the amount of time spent on the reflection doesn’t have to be long. You need maximum 10 minutes to think how certain activities could have been performed better. A long reflection can distract you from the important tasks of the next day.

3. Turn off notifications

Turn off e-mail, text and any other notifications that may pop up on your Smartphone or computer before finishing the important work of the day. These notifications can make you less productive.

4. Get digital time-off

Surfing the web means you’re inevitably going to wind up reading a blog about something wildly non-work related, which is probably has little relevance to your daily life. After all, the Internet is the kingdom of conspiracy theories, celebrity gossip, and consumer manipulation. Instead of surfing out of your uncomfortable chair, go out for a walk and get some much-needed exercise and fresh air. Studies have proven exercise can help you to stay focused. Read a book, or do something creative. By doing this, you’ll be more productive in completing the important tasks.

5. Manage your time

As hinted in the second tip, it’s all about time management. You need to manage your time wisely. Get in a daily regime. Decide on the working hours and the time needed for recreation. Even if you work online, working whenever you feel like won’t get you anywhere.

6. Get career-focused education

Invest in consistent and career-specific education to keep away from distractions. Examples of career-focused institutes include Sanford Brown College, Brown Mackie College etc.

By following these tips, you can keep yourself focused while increasing productivity in the age of distraction. And this maybe your best job skill yet, the ability to block out the noise.

Got more tips to be productive in the age of distraction? Share with us!

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Anna Hicks is an online writer who normally covers topics such as personal finance, business, and career. You can read more writing by Anna at


  1. ScarletRegina on the 3rd November

    As an avid practitioner of meditation, I very much disagree that one needs a maximum of 10 minutes to reflect. Dwelling is most certainly not helpful and can create negativity. Rather than saying people should avoid reflecting, it’s better to say people need to learn how to reflect productively.

    Approaching work (and anything really) with a conscious mind engenders productivity. It doesn’t hinder it. In fact, not reflecting can cause your unconscious mind to hinder your focus.

  2. Mike Alt on the 4th November

    Hi Anna- Distractions are a huge part of our society and most of the time self inflicted. We have to retrain ourselves to focus and not let ourselves get off task. These tips are excellent and ones that I am going to remember and put to good use. Thanks!

  3. Running Software on the 27th November

    Thanks for the article and hope to read from you again. “How to Be Productive in the Age of Distraction” – interesting title Anna. Another good post Anna.

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