Distractions are everywhere. As a society that embraces digital technology and global communication, we’re challenged by distractions that our parents and grandparents could only dream of. Our modern workstations are gateways to an infinite source of gossip, news, opinions, and cat pictures. Despite this new, seemingly endless influx of information, we tackle the problem of distraction in the same fundamental ways as our ancestors: we define the task at hand and we reduce factors that don’t directly contribute to completing that task. This post demonstrates some of the ways you might minimize distractions in your digital workspace. Whether your a Mac user, a Windows user, or you use something a little more esoteric, these guidelines can help you focus more easily and be more productive.
Defining Your Focus
Before you begin, take a moment to consider what your focus is. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? Computers are a generalized tool for handling a wide variety of tasks, and if you have a clear focus you can remove some of the bells and whistles that are pulling you away from that goal. Having a clear focus will allow you to pick and choose the programs, features, and settings that emphasize your goal and minimize distraction.
Tidying Your Digital Desk
The first step you can take in making your workspace distraction-free is to declutter your desktop. When you start your computer, the first thing you should see is a desktop that’s clean and ready to go, not one that’s jumbled with notes, documents, or images. Every icon you keep on your desktop is a potential source of distraction, so why not remove the temptation? Take 5 – 10 minutes to remove and reorganize your desktop files in a separate directory, such as your user or documents directory. Organize them by task if possible, to make it easier to find what you need later on. The key is to keep your desktop as icon-free as possible.
If you’ve been hoarding desktop icons, you may notice a strange image taking up the majority of your screen – don’t worry, that’s just your wallpaper! You can set it to anything you want, but be careful. A vacation photo might look nice, but if you find yourself planning your next vacation instead of working then it may not be a good choice. Choose an image that’s attractive, but not distractive. Once your desktop is clean, consider setting your taskbar to autohide. Your taskbar contains all of your open windows, as well as any programs running in the background – in other words, things that are not related to the task at hand. Setting your taskbar to autohide will move your taskbar off-screen when you’re not using it and bring it back when you move your mouse cursor to the side of the screen. Not only does this help remove distractions, but it dedicates additional screen space to your focus. While it may not seem like much, having a computer that statrs clutter-free can make a huge impact on your workflow.
Making Your Workspace Yours
The next step is to configure the programs that you use regularly to be as distraction-free as possible. Don’t be afraid to tweak things: after all, removing distractions is about removing elements that pull you away from your focus. You might try changing the settings in programs that you use regularly. Many programs can be heavily customized to fit the specific needs of the user. Some programs, especially word processing programs, may even provide a “distraction-free” mode that removes all elements except for the main working area. What you can modify depends on what programs you use and how far you’re willing to look to create a custom environment.
A more heavy-handed step is to create a separate user account specifically for your work environment. While this may not be an option for a corporate environment, it’s a great option for those who work at home or run their own business. Creating a separate user account gives you an additional level of separation between your home and your work life. Think of it as a self-contained pod on your computer which you can set aside as soon as you clock out. Any documents and settings that apply to your work environment will be preserved and safely tucked out of sight until you log into that account again. Creating a separate account varies by operating system, but instructions can easily be found by a quick search.
Breaking old habits is hard, and a computer’s versatility is matched only by its potential for wasting time. There are steps you can take to prevent yourself from drifting away from your focus. The most important thing is to be aware of your distractions. How often do you find yourself drifting from your focus, and for how long? For this you can use programs such as RescueTime, which tracks how long you spend in a given program. Programs like this can help you picture your workflow as you complete each phase of your task and identify any “weak points” where distractions can sneak up and pull you away from your goal. It can also help you coach yourself on how to shift your attention back towards your goal when you find yourself lingering on something else.
A more direct approach is to remove or outright block your distractions directly. If you have a program installed that doesn’t contribute significantly to your focus, remove it. If you have websites that you go to out of habit or to cure boredom, consider blocking them. There are browser extensions such as Website Blocker which will prevent you from visiting your time-wasters during work hours. If you truly have difficulty managing your time, you might consider disabling Wi-Fi or using a separate locked-down device specifically for work.
Keeping Up Appearances
The hardest part of having a distraction-free workspace is keeping it consistently distraction-free. We’re constantly bombarded with information that demands our attention, making it more and more difficult to filter out the helpful from the harmful. The key to preventing yourself from becoming re-cluttered is to remember and repeat these practices as often as necessary until they become second nature. After all, computers are meant to improve our quality of work, not inhibit it.