The ability to sustain attention is a skill.
Your productivity will soar if you work in sprints without getting distracted 90% percent of the time.
Distractions are inevitable, so it pays to start deep work with a plan to derail/overcome/prevent them.
“Distraction, at its core, is this: confusion about what matters,” says Curt Steinhorst, the author of Can I Have your Attention.
The critical question is: how do you increase/improve your attention and concentration to get more work done?
One approach that works well is meta-attention or, better still, attention to attention: learning to become more aware of the things that consistently distract you.
In our pursuit of great work, distractions tend to derail our goals.
Zig Ziglar once observed that “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”
To become more aware of the many distractions working against you, start tracking your attention.
You could experiment for a week to find out how you spend your attention, especially when you commit to deep work. That knowledge can help you do more of what helps you make real progress.
Knowledge of what’s not working, everything that takes you off the path of deep work and the many tiny internal and external distractions can help you direct your attention to the right things in the future.
“The antidote for mind-wandering is meta-awareness, attention to attention itself, as in the ability to notice that you are not noticing what you should, and correcting your focus,” writes Daniel Goleman, in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.
Attention to attention is a mindful experience — it’s the process of being conscious of what gets your attention in the present.
Applied to productivity, it’s a time efficiency practice that brings your awareness to everything that’s trying to take your attention to the task at hand.
When you practice meta-attention, you stay in observation mode: noticing distractions as they interrupt your deep work and quickly derail them before they turn your single-tasking habit into multitasking. As you notice the distractions, you refuse to react and return to focus mode.
For example, when you write and you stop responding to a notification, you immediately become aware of that time away from what you are doing and quickly get your attention back to the writing process.
As you increase your awareness of your distractions, you build your awareness muscle to overcome distractions and improve your focus.
Practicing meta-attention (awareness of your attention) can consistently starve your distractions and feed your focus to help you do more great work every day. It can help you become more efficient.
Your attention will always be under attack — making the conscious effort to control how you spend your attention will help you do one thing at a time, by default, which will improve your level of productivity.
“Focus can only occur when we have said yes to one option and no to all other options,” argues James Clear.
If you can tame the many distractions aiming for your attention: unnecessary meetings, calls, urgent but unimportant emails and redundant notifications, you will consistently get more things done.
There are more distractions we unconsciously pay attention to every day. Identify them and starve the sources when you start deep work. In the process, you will be able to feed your focus and increase your attention span.
Getting conscious of your distraction sources will help you develop meta-attention over time.
It’s a reflective and deliberative process. It takes time, but you can get full control over almost everything that stands in the way of productivity.
“The truth is that things don’t matter equally, and success is found in doing what matters most,” Gary Keller writes in The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.
You can also build a productive system that takes care of some distractions whilst practising meta-attention:
- Design your immediate work environment to support deep work
- Keep one tab at a time
- Work in springs of 30 minutes at a time
- Taking short breaks in between deep work
- Working offline when necessary and
- scheduling email/ notification time
Starting today, gain better control over your distractions, and you will do more great work and make lasting progress.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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