Willpower Workout: Focusing admist distractions

Willpower Workout #6: Focusing Amid Distractions

August 31, 2020

We live in a society filled with weapons that war against our focus. Multiple devices with unending notifications make us constantly interruptible. When in the office, open office plans make face-to-face interruptions easy, if not encouraged.

Focusing requires cognitive energy – and an increasing amount, given the abundance of interruptions competing for our attention. Many high-performing professionals who we work with have experienced a considerable decline in their ability to focus in the midst of distractions and their ability to focus for sustained periods of time.

As compelling entertainment options and apps with infinite scrolling grab our attention and won’t let go, focusing on less compelling things becomes more difficult and less exciting. In short, focusing requires willpower.

In today’s workout, you’re going to take a test of your focus abilities. But to explore your limits, we’re going to make it harder.

Day 6 Willpower Workout:

  1. Go to this website and take both tests.
  2. Wait at least 10 mins.
  3. Now, turn on a video or audio segment with people talking about a topic that really interests you that you have not watched/listened to before.
  4. Now turn on music that you have not listened to before.
  5. Make sure the volume of both #1 and #2 is high enough to be easily audible, if not a little loud.
  6. Now go back to this website and take both tests.
  7. Share your results on social media using the share buttons on the bottom right and #ExploreYourLimits.

New and interesting distractions are more likely to steal our attention than uninteresting and well-known interruptions. We purposely designed steps three and four of this workout to be engaging and difficult to ignore.

Evaluating Your Workout:

1. On which of the two tests did you do better relative to the average? Are you better at focusing in the midst of distractions (test 1) or switching your focus between tasks (test 2)?

2. Do you feel you did better or worse the second time through?

We often overlook or underestimate the power distractions have on our performance. This comes at a risk. The more we overlook and underestimate it, the less likely we are to take action to reduce and mitigate interruptions.

3. Did you do better or worse after introducing the distractions of your own? On test 1? On test 2?

Generally, your scores improve the second time through a test, especially with so little time between tests. You would expect that to be the case in this scenario. If you did the same or worse, that means the distractions had a significant effect. If you did better the second time, you may have still suffered a performance decline due to the distractions, but it’s possible that the experience of doing it the first time outweighed the cost.

4. Which distraction or what about the distractions was most distracting? Why?

5. What do your scores tell you about how you could better focus at work?

Willpower Workout in Action:

This workout forced me to figure out how to manage distractions to another level. You can see how I did below:

Here are my scenario 1 and scenario 2 scores on the first focus test:

Focus 1 test scores

And here are my scores for the second focus test:

Second focus test

This is day 6 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

If you’d prefer to jump in where Matt is right now and then make up the other workouts on your own schedule, sign up here:

Past Workouts: