Episode 290 – How to Protect Your Attention and Avoid Distractions


Explore effective strategies for managing your attention to avoid distractions and boost productivity in a meaningful and sustainable way.

In this week’s episode, Anna explores the crucial yet often overlooked aspect of productivity: managing our attention. Anna discusses how, just like time and energy, attention is a finite and invaluable resource that can make or break our productivity and overall success. She dives into the digital distractions, pressures of multitasking, and the bombardment of information that challenge our focus daily. Explore powerful strategies including Meaning, Mastery, and Mindfulness, designed to help prioritise high-value activities, optimise productivity, and protect attention from external disturbances. Whether it’s through a digital detox, crafting time for deep work, or realigning tasks with greater purpose, Anna provides practical advice to help you navigate the complexities of focusing in a distraction-filled world. Join us as we uncover the art of managing attention to not just perform tasks but to also perform them wisely and well.

00:00 Manage time, energy, attention for sustainable productivity.

06:35 Embrace challenges, improve, focus, and stay mindful.

09:23 Focus on writing to achieve your goal.

10:50 Managing external demands and internal challenges effectively.

*Resources mentioned during the episode*
1:1 Coaching & Mentoring – If you’re looking for one-to-one support to help you achieve your specific life and business goals, Anna has a limited number of spots for individual coaching and mentoring. www.onestepoutside.com/coaching

Avoid distractions

We’ve been talking about managing our time, we’ve been talking about managing our energy. And today we complete that little triad of limited resources as we talk about managing our attention in order to be sustainably productive, in the broadest, most powerful sense of the term, to really focus on what matters. And you don’t need me to tell you how many digital distractions there are in the form of social media, in the form of emails and all these different things coming at us, new projects, shiny object syndrome, people asking us to do things and so on, right? There are so many things that could draw our attention in different directions, potentially in the wrong direction. But we’re talking not just about those little micro distractions, but also big picture when we’re being pulled away from the real big projects and goals and definitions of success that matter to us in the biggest sense of the word. So we’re looking both at that big picture on the one hand, in terms of where we’re focusing our attention in our lives, and down to the details of where we’re focusing our attention on a day to day basis. Attention, just like time, just like energy, is a finite and very precious resource that is constantly under siege. So many digital distractions, as I said, emails, notifications, social media, that makes maintaining focus on the really important tasks so, so challenging.

And there’s the pressure to multitasks, there’s a constant bombardment of information. And all this coupled together, some of us are neurodivergent. There are so many reasons for why it is difficult to sustain attention on any single activity for an extended period of time. And yet the bad news is that this is really important for directing our focus towards tasks that truly matter. So if we’re being productive on the wrong things, I think Stephen Covey, one of my big idols, I think I quote him on most podcast episodes, and he said, it doesn’t matter how fast we’re going if we’re heading in the wrong direction. So being productive on the wrong things means that we’re wasting time, we’re wasting effort, wasting energy, and undermining our overall performance and progress. But if we can prioritise projects and tasks, if we can try to ensure that our attention is directed towards those really high value activities, the ones that really drive meaningful outcomes and contribute to long term success, then TaDA, rainbows and unicorns, and we will be in a much better place. So minimising distractions is absolutely essential in order to be able to create an environment that is conducive to that deep work that Cal Newport talks about and sustained focus that we need in order to create anything of significance.

So whether you like sort of a digital detox strategy, or you’re going to establish a designated focus period in your diary with some of my executive coaching clients now, in fact all of them, I’d probably almost say we’re looking at how we can carve out that deep work time in their calendars. It could be 2 hours here, it could be 1 hour there, but it is needed. Or maybe it’s optimising your workspace layout. My desk is getting a little messy now, so it might be an opportunity to tidy that up a little bit. But it’s about taking proactive steps to reduce interruptions that can, all taken together, really take us away from what matters, right? So if we can do those things, proactive steps, optimization, crafting time for focus and so on, then that can really help us with our productivity and our effectiveness. And we’re basically protecting, safeguarding our attention from those external distractions, that’s going to help us optimise our cognitive resources and maximise our capacity to tackle all those complex tasks that we need to do. So that’s the aim at least. And as ever, I want to give you three strategies to harness and sharpen your attention.

So a couple of episodes ago we looked at managing your time. We talked about blocks, balance and boundaries. Last week we looked at managing your energy and we talked about rituals, recovery and resilience. Finally today, I’ve got three more for you when it comes to managing your attention. But I’ve given you the clue to the first one already, meaning mastery and mindfulness. So let’s get stuck in. So the first one is, and this is where we’re looking at the big picture. Find or create meaning in the work that you do.

You want to be, and this sounds very idealistic and wonderful and naive, but you want to be aligning it with a higher purpose. If you’re an employee in an organisation, both for the company connecting the work that you’re doing with the vision of the company, the organisation, and for you yourself, if you don’t see how your tasks matter, if I don’t know why I’m here talking to you on this podcast, which is an interesting question to ask, then why would I bother? I’d much rather go down and have lunch. I’m getting a bit hungry. I could be watching telly, I could be drawing, doodling, writing my book, goodness knows what else. If I don’t see the importance, the significance of the task I’m doing, and why I’m doing it, then I’m not going to stay focused. I will be easily distracted. If I do see the significance of who I’m trying to reach and what I’m trying to convey and what the outcome is, then I’m more likely to stay engaged and focused, even in the face of distractions, even in a rumbling tummy situation. I’ll stay here and finish this episode.

So the first one, when it comes to managing your attention, is meaning, big picture meaning of life, understanding why you’re here and the purpose of what you’re doing, but then connecting your bigger goals and values and vision to the details of the tasks that you’re doing now. No, you will not always love every single thing you do, and you won’t always be able to connect each task to something. But even doing your admin or your expenses or something can, in theory, be linked to a bigger goal. So I challenge you to recognise the importance of doing your accounting, because otherwise you might get put in jail or at least be fined and getting this admin out of the way, because that means when it’s the weekend, then I can be present with my kids and so on. Right. So there’s always a way to connect to bigger meaning. Secondly is mastery, and I talked about embracing that growth mindset last week. I think when it comes to resilience, this is Carol Dweck’s concept of growth mindset, rather than the fixed mindset.

And that’s where you see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. So if something’s come up, if there’s a setback, if there’s a challenge, rather than leaning back and away and trying to do something else, getting distracted, I’ll lean in and get to grips with this and really go, right. What can I do to take action? How can I look at how I can improve? How can I stay curious, develop that resilience that we talked about again last week, and really focus on how I can get better. Getting better, of course, will also help me to focus, because the better you are at something, I think the more in that state of flow you’ll be, the more enjoyable it will be, and then you’ll, by definition, want to stick with it and focus on it when you’re in that state of flow, and that will help you navigate distractions more easily. So really, looking at mastery, how can you get better at your job, at your role, at the work you’re doing, as well as getting better at managing your attention? Why not? Because that’s the skill itself. And then finally, mindfulness. It’s something that we can do. It doesn’t have to be meditation and so on, right.

It’s simply being present and fully engaged in the moment. I more and more think this is the key to success, certainly to feeling aligned and successful. It is being fully present wherever you are. Again, if I’m here with you, I am here with you. Luckily, the kids today are at school and kindergarten, whatever, and they’re not banging on the door because that would lead to a very different feeling for me. But I can be fully present with you now and then I’ll be fully present with them when I pick them up this evening. It can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths. And I’ve been talking quite quickly today, I think, because I’m engaged and I’ve been recording a few podcasts in a row, take a few deep breaths before starting a task, setting aside dedicated time for that focused work, that deep work without interruptions.

Or it could be simply just trying to cultivate that sense of mindfulness. You can do a gratitude exercise at the end of the day or at the beginning of the day. I’m grateful for having my health, for living where I live, for having the opportunity to whatever it is, and just focusing your attention on what’s in front of you. Yes, we still have lots of exciting goals we want to work towards and we might want to change things and there are things we’re not happy with. But having that gratitude, I think, is also really important to focus on what’s in front of you, what matters right now. In a way, we have, well, in every way, we have no control of the past. And yes, we can sort of plan for and try to create things for the future, but the only thing we have 100% control over is this moment right now. And so the more we can be mindful and present and engaged, the more we will find success.

I think if I want to achieve this goal, if I want to write a book and I’m stressing, I could be planning, I could be prioritising, I could be mapping out and things, what is the thing that’s going to get me to write that book while it’s sitting down or standing at my standing desk to write? So if I want to achieve that goal, what’s the thing I can do to get there? Write. Right now? I can start writing on the book. Right? That’s the thing that’s going to get me there. So the best way of managing your attention is to direct your attention to the thing you want to do. Now, I know this is a tricky topic and we all have our personal difficulties and so on, and my intention is never to in any way give a one size fits all solution to any of these concepts. So you know what works for you. But the point I’m making is you need to find out what works for you. You need to find a way to make it work.

And you by no means have to copy what anyone else is doing. There is no right answer, but you need to. Throughout all these episodes that I’ve talked about managing your time, your energy and your attention, it’s about knowing what matters to you. It’s about finding your rhythm and rituals that work for you. And it is about finding a way to manage your attention, whatever your personality, neurodiversity, whatever other quirks and differences that you experience is up to you. And hopefully with a support structure in place to find what works for you. So that’s managing your attention. So we looked at meaning, mastery and mindfulness.

Now, the truth is, I should say, through all of these things, right, there are, and I have said there’s so many external demands, constant interruptions from people. We’ve got internal challenges like shiny object syndrome and stress and overwhelm and so on. So I’m not saying that this is a magical formula. We’ll manage our time, energy and attention, and then Tada. Everything will be perfect. But I hope in the last few episodes you’ve had some nug. It’s of things. Oh, I could do that.

I could shift my attention there, reframe how I’m thinking about this and that. That will be powerful for you in achieving what you want to achieve, in feeling more fully present and engaged at work and with your family and loved ones. Hope you found that interesting, valuable, and I’ll see you back here for next week’s episode. Bye for now.


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If you’re looking for one-to-one support to help you achieve your specific life and business goals, Anna has a limited number of spots for individual coaching and mentoring.


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