Remote Work

7 tips for finding focus and reducing digital distractions

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As millions of teams adjust to working remotely full time, many are searching for ways to stay productive without compromising work-life balance. 

Finding time for deep focus, reducing digital distractions, and fighting the constant deluge of app toggling and notification checking are all top priorities for workers—and for good reason. According to the Anatomy of Work Index, nearly three-quarters of workers experience burnout every year. Without the right processes or frameworks to adapt to remote work life, it’s not unreasonable to expect that number to spike, signaling damaging implications for employee morale, engagement and ultimately retention. 

Fortunately there are a few simple steps anyone can take to regain control of their work schedules and get back to productivity, including our latest feature, Do Not Disturb, which is available on web and mobile today. Do Not Disturb allows you to clearly set a schedule for hours dedicated to focused work, control what alerts you receive and when, and eliminate pings on weekends and vacations.

Want more? Here are 7 tips to help your team find focus and reduce digital distractions, from anywhere.

1. Take control of your notifications

Chances are you don’t need to receive a ping every time your mom likes a Facebook post. The same goes for every time a team member asks a question or gives a status update. Opting out of notifications breaks the “always-on” mindset that we constantly need to be available and reactive to others. To avoid continued disruption, we suggest turning off all but the most critical notifications—whether from a specific person or related to a particular project. You’ll find yourself less distracted and overwhelmed by notifications.

2. Timebox distractions

Research has shown many times over that taking small breaks during the day actually improves productivity. The trick is making sure your quick recess doesn’t turn into an entire afternoon. To keep yourself accountable, we recommend setting aside specific time blocks for non-work activities like checking the news or scrolling through social feeds. When the time block ends, close any apps or browser windows you opened so you can get back to the work at hand.

3. Change your surroundings

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to tune out digital distractions and concentrate on your work, you just can’t seem to focus! In these cases we recommend a change of scenery. Psychologists have found that putting yourself in a new environment, even if it’s the next room over, can help reset your brain and jumpstart creativity. Luckily, most SaaS-based work tools like G Suite and Slack support anywhere working so we don’t need to sit at our desks to be productive. Don’t be afraid to go mobile and get the creative juices flowing.

4. Set up email filters and rules

Most of us receive at least a few email promotions or newsletters a day that we should have opted out of long ago. These messages crowd our email inbox and make it harder to find important or time-sensitive notes from external partners and colleagues. In order to keep your email inbox streamlined, we recommend creating filters to automatically sort through what you need to see now versus what can wait until later. Filtering through senders is an especially quick and powerful hack. If the sender isn’t from @yourcompany.com, filter those emails to a seperate inbox so you can catch up on them later. 

5. Use Do Not Disturb mode

Say you’re on a tight end-of-quarter deadline or heading into an important pitch meeting and you can’t afford to be distracted by anything. There are very few substitutes for deep, uninterrupted focus time. In these situations, we recommend turning on Do Not Disturb. Most mainstream productivity tools now include Do Not Disturb as a standard feature, including Asana. If you’re using Asana’s Do Not Disturb, we recommend setting scheduled focus times (e.g. 20 minutes, 2 hours, or until tomorrow) so you can fully disconnect and concentrate on the work that matters most. When a team member tries to @-mention you or assign a task, they’ll see you’re on Do Not Disturb and not receiving notifications right now. If you start worrying that you’re missing something important you can always flip it off for a quick check-in, but try taking advantage of the peace and quiet while you have it. 

6. Follow a “less-is-more” approach on social media

When’s the last time you went through your list of social followers and follows? Practicing good social media hygiene is one of the easiest ways to cut down on unwanted distractions no matter where you are. If an account is no longer providing valuable content, unfollow it. Conversely, if there are accounts that provide a ton of helpful links and information, follow them to ensure your content feeds are worthwhile. If you’re feeling extra bold, maybe even consider deleting accounts on platforms you don’t use any more. 

7. Try the same approach with your productivity tools

We mentioned earlier that workers use an average of 10 applications to collaborate on work. Some of these tools are essential, but others are just plain bloat. We recommend taking inventory of all your workplace productivity tools at least once a year to make sure you’re still getting value from them. You might be surprised by the amount of crossover that exists between tools (e.g. internal messaging, file storage, reporting), or discover that you rarely use some at all. Trimming the fat will not only save you hours of time spent toggling between tools but money wasted on unnecessary licenses and subscriptions, too. 

Ready to find your new remote work flow?

As with any new habit, these tips will take time to stick. Don’t get discouraged if you slip up and accidentally find yourself down another rabbit hole of cute puppy videos to cope with everything that’s going on in the world. We’ve all been there. The important thing is to keep at it and find what works for you. For more helpful tips on mastering remote work, check out the Asana blog today. 

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