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How to Stay Focused in a World of Distraction


Beeps, buzzers, lights, rings and endless distractions are everywhere — no wonder it feels impossible to focus. Our environments have gotten complex with the constant stimulus surrounding us, therefore making it challenging to keep our attention on one thing.

Our minds go from one thought to the next, making it impossible to complete a simple project. Within seconds, one idea is derailed and distracted by another environmental stimulus. The rapid reinforcement rates of TV, social media and gaming also make it more challenging to complete a mundane task that has a lower rate of reinforcement. Our minds have become restless and less productive due to environmental stimuli.

As you attempt to balance your daily work and school schedules in your home environment, you will notice the distractions taking over your abilities to stay focused. You will sit down to work on a project and then your phone beeps. You will check your phone and within seconds, you have derailed your thought process. It will take several minutes to transfer your thoughts back to your work.

Now imagine this happening over and over again. It is impossible to stay focused and be attentive to your work, and it’s quite frustrating. Distractions increase mistakes while decreasing productivity.

Take a moment to reflect on a time you were able to hyper-focus on one project for more than 45 minutes. Being in your workflow is rewarding and peaceful — like your “secret island.” Your secret island is a place no one is allowed to enter, and is your time and space. Your secret island is a place where you will produce your best work while experiencing being calm, happy and productive.

We have to set up our external environment and make positive behavior changes to be able to get to our secret island. Let’s begin by setting up our workplace, being aware there are other people in your home also trying to work and do school work. It might be a good time to set up their environment for success too.

The area you select must be a space you designate for work only. Clear all distractible items that could derail your thought process in the future, and have a clear desk or table that only has the one project you plan to work on at that moment.

Turn off your phone, or place it in another room so you can’t hear it beep, buzz or ring. White noise is also a great tool to drown out any sounds that might lead to distractions. It is essential to explain to your family members your blocked work schedule; therefore, they will be able to plan too. Set a timer or plan for two hours to get, and stay in, your secret island to receive the best benefits.

When you experience getting and staying in your secret island, it will be incredibly reinforcing. The probability of practicing setting up your environment and practicing stimulus control will increase. Your productivity will be at a higher level and your rate of reinforcement will increase.

In your secret island, you will experience being calm, relaxed and happy, releasing dopamine that will also be reinforcing. The more you practice positive behavior change, the more you will increase your focus and productivity.

Holly Metzger-Brown

Holly Metzger-Brown, M.Ed., CSA, GC-ABA, BCBA, LBS is the Learn & Play Director at the York Jewish Community Center. She graduated from Lycoming College, where she played varsity tennis and basketball. She has a master’s degree in teacher leadership and education. Holly is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, certified POINTE PROGRAM consultant, and certified tennis instructor. She has been published in several books, journals and magazines, including Onsite Fitness, Netplay, Wacky Ways to Succeed with ADHD, Strategies, TennisPro, Yorkids and Community Rec. She has been locally and nationally recognized for her youth fitness and sports programs.

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