Topic 1 | Understanding Distractions and How to Limit Them

You’re ready to work equipped with your effective to-do lists and goals in mind. But then, you stumble upon the biggest obstacle in productivity — distractions. Distractions take away the time you should be doing invaluable work.


How Our Brain Processes Information: Why do we get distracted?

Based on research from Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley, our brains focus on “bursts of attention” rather than a continuous flow. Think about it like a video. A video is a set of photographs stitched together to produce a motion picture.

Our brain is like that in terms of focus. Our brain picks up the most important thing to do for around 4 times per second. In every moment, our brain scans the environment to see what is the most critical task. It favors the tasks that give instant satisfaction like social media browsing or other dopamine-inducing activities.

This is largely because of how our brains are hardwired. Our brain is built to protect us. We evolve with the need to protect ourselves from danger. Our ability to notice changes in our immediate surroundings means life or death. It protects us from getting hit by a car or falling down the stairs but it is not necessarily needed in our relatively safe work environment.


Types of Distractions: External and Internal

The world right now is full of distractions. The average attention span of a human being is currently at 8 seconds. We are bombarded by a lot of distractions such as our phones, our environment, or the people around us. It’s limiting what you can accomplish in a day.

Our brains are bombarded by numerous information that it has to process. There are external distractions and internal distractions that stunt our effective use of time.

To manage distractions, we must understand and be aware of the roots of our distractions. The following are some of the most common distractions and the needs they accommodate:


The Need for Affirmation

If we are distracted with social media, it may be rooted in our longing for affirmation. Everyone wants to know that they are loved and special, and social media has provided us with this affirmation insanely fast through likes, hearts and comments on our posts.

Our number of followers liking our content gives us that special feeling in real-time. That is why we grab our phones on every notification at the expense of our productivity.


The Need for Connection

Social media is not all about us. It can be a way to know what our friends, loved ones, or our celebrity crush are doing. You want to know everything about them. Getting updates on their whereabouts gives us a feeling of connection.

One notification of that update can give us the happiness we want in our day. Most of the time, we lose productivity because of that constant anticipation.



Fear of Missing Important Information

Some are distracted because they just don’t want to miss important information. They check every email when they get it. They check every message received at the moment. They read every important article circulating in their network.




The Prospect of Future Happiness

We all want happiness in our lives. We daydream about buying that nice dress or going on a fabulous vacation. We window shop online, add it to cart, then abandon it.

These are distractions that can prevent us from doing the actual things needed to get it.



Willpower doesn’t work all the time. You can stop the urge to be distracted. All you need is willpower to do it. This advice may or may not work for all.

Our willpower is like a muscle. You can only do so much. Imagine going to the gym and lifting weights. If you are having a hard time lifting 10kg dumbbells, do you think you can lift them up the whole day? No.

There will be a point when your muscles get tired. If you exert too much effort to lift, your muscles get torn up and will not be useful for the coming days, or worse, you can be injured.

It’s the same thing with our willpower. If all you have is willpower, there will be a point where you will just give in.


How to Limit Distractions

Controlling distractions at work is challenging. In this article, we will learn how to manage distractions.

Our brain is designed to concentrate or respond to signals around us. A simple notification from our phone can easily interrupt our focus. The Pomodoro technique allows you to navigate your distractions easily using a sequential timetable.

The method involves breaking down your workload to 25-minute tasks (called Pomodoro sessions) while taking a 5-minute break in between.

How does it Work?

Before you plot your Pomodoro session, you need to revisit your checklist and chunk them into smaller tasks that can be done in 25 minutes or less. Once the tasks are properly aligned and sequenced you can do the following steps:


There is a learning curve to get accustomed to the Pomodoro method, but it is a jump-start for beginners who want to create their calendar. Alternatively, there are some useful Pomodoro tools that you can utilize in your work schedule.

Software Tools You Can Use for Pomodoro

  • Pomotodo – It is an app that can be installed both in Windows or Mac that displays both your Pomodoro and your to-do list progress. It also collects data about your work activity and displays your performance indicators using a visual report.
  • Forest App – A clever app that uses a reward system. This application represents your completed Pomodoro into trees planted in your digital garden. However, if you fall short in your Pomodoro cycle, it will display a withered tree. Interestingly, the app also partnered with environmental organizations and donates money to fund tree-planting charities.

Change in Environment

If you are having difficulty being productive in your current workspace because of distractions (such as kids, pets, or noise), it is recommended that you find an alternative place so you can work productively.  You can visit this module to learn more about setting a dedicated workspace.