how to overcome distraction

Great Work is the work that matters the most to you.

It comes from your unique perspective, puts you in contact with cool people doing awesome things, makes you feel alive, and leaves a legacy behind you.  

Despite your deep commitment, when we sit down to actually move it forward, it can feel all too easy to get distracted, go off on a tangent, and not make any progress.

This has certainly gotten worse for all of us as we navigate today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world.

But fear not! There are several strategies that you can use to help you avoid distraction, stay focused and on track.

1. Set specific goals, so you know whether you are meeting them

Having clear, defined goals helps to focus your attention. When you know exactly what you intend to do, you can recognize whether you are on track, or distracted by shiny objects and new ideas. As obvious as it may sound, it’s also important to remember that specific goals allow you to know when you have completed them. This is hugely helpful motivation and will alert you when you are done and can take a break.

In the Great Work Community, we follow the Great Work Method (as outlined in the Great Work Journals!) providing support through our IRL sessions. Specifically, we meet every Monday to revisit our 90-day goals and set three tasks that we are sure we can accomplish this week.

Join us if you’d like to give the Great Work Method a try!

how to avoid distraction

2. Set aside sacred time to work on your Great Work

There will always be something that you can convince yourself is more important than your Great Work.


More pressing.

And yet, if you don’t find time to do your Great Work it will simply never happen. #truthbomb

While it is important that you meet your obligations and do your less exciting work, it is also important for you to create time that is non-negotiable for your Great Work.

If you do this, you will make progress on your Great Work, for sure. But, maybe more importantly, you will also re-develop trust in yourself that you will take your Great Work seriously. This will improve your ability to set goals, tasks, and to-dos, and then meet them.

This self-trust is critical when the work you do matters.

On Wednesdays in the Great Work Community, we meet for sacred co-working time, where we focus on moving our Great Work forward. Having accountability and community built up around this time will ensure that a) you make it to the meeting, and b) you will have at least one hour a week to move your Great Work forward.

Join us in the Great Work Community! I know it will make a difference to help you focus on what matters most.

3. Eliminate obvious distractions while you work

We know what takes us off track, right?

Email badges (A new email! Lemme see!), social media (Oh, whatever happened with…), and unexpected noises are prime culprits.

For these incidental distractions, it really helps to have a routine that is designed to block them out. For example, when you sit down to focus on your Great Work, fully close your email program so the badge goes away.

Also, since social media seems to operate on an unconscious level (how often have you been on Instagram but don’t know how you got there?) consider using a distraction-blocking app, like which will block social media on all of your devices for a set amount of time. If you are easily distracted by the environment, consider using noise-canceling headphones, or instrumental music to fill your ears with peace.

4. Give yourself a way to re-focus when your own brain takes you away

There are times when the biggest distraction isn’t out there, it’s right inside your own brain. Have you ever been working on a blog post, or podcast episode, or even just while updating the copy for your website and an unrelated thought flits across your brain, like ‘I wonder if there’s any new research on…” or “I wonder if Michael Hyatt ever wrote about this…” or “Where did I see that blue dress” or “What was the name of that song that was playing at the Starbucks?” Before you know it, you are google-hole-base-jumping and your copy remains half-baked at best.

When this happens, the key is to catch yourself and bring yourself back to the task at hand as quickly as possible. One useful strategy is to create a Single Intention Note. This is a post-it note with exactly one intention written on it, and it’s the only one that is allowed to be affixed to your computer monitor.

On this single intention post-it is your one and only intention for this work block. I have one on my screen right now that says “Write distraction blog” and when I’ve finished it, I will replace it with one that sets my intention for the next work block. This single-minded reminder allows you to quickly remember what you were doing, and refocus on what matters.

single intention note

4. Understand your energetic profile, and follow it!

In chapter five of my book, Great Work, I discuss how energetic profiles impact our ability to do our Great Work (pages 130-132!).

The upshot is this: you need to know when you do your best creative, thoughtful, deep work.

Then, you need to organize your life so that you are giving the gift of that time– your best time— to your Great Work. I am at my best first thing in the morning, so I do my Great Work between 6 and 7AM, and then again between 9 and 11 AM.

Other people, the night owls among you, may do your best work between 9 PM and 1AM. While this is utterly foreign to me, if that’s when you do your best work, give it to your Great Work!

Once you know when you are best suited to do your Great Work, you can understand other aspects of your energetic profile. I like to take meetings between 1 and 3, and then do busy work and make phone calls between 3 and 5. This is the IDEAL day for me to avoid distraction and focus on what matters. Whatever you discover about yourself, believe it! You might be shocked about how much more productive you, are and how less prone to distraction you are once you organize your day around your energetic profile.

5. listen to your body when it needs a break

If you are clear about what you want to accomplish, you are doing it at the right time energetically, and you are still drifting away into distraction, you might need a break!

Regular breaks are critical as they help you avoid burnout and stay focused. Don’t ignore your brain when it is hammering away at you to stop!

You are not a robot!

You need other things other than work to thrive!

Your body might be trying to tell you to:

  • Use mindfulness techniques: Mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help you stay focused and reduce stress, which will improve your Great Work in the long run!
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can drastically improve focus and concentration. It’s almost like once your body is tired, your mind can take control.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential for staying focused and avoiding distractions. It’s important to get enough sleep at night, but the research is confirming that 20 minutes of sleep in the middle of the day can sometimes work WONDERS for focus. It’s like turning your brain off and then turning it back on. Give it a shot!

6. Be Nice to yourself and Celebrate Your Wins

Learning how you best can focus and avoid distraction is a skill that takes time and experimentation. Be patient with yourself, and while you want to be persistent, you don’t want to be too hard on yourself if you slip up!

Self-shaming is incredibly inefficient.

Instead of focusing on what you weren’t able to do, or how distracted you were this week, it’s much more important to reinforce your wins.

Think of yourself as an apprentice who is under your care. Are you going to yell at them for everything they could have done but didn’t?

I hope not!

Instead, point out the bright spots, allow them to feel good about what they have done, and show them where they are showing aptitude and ingenuity. This focus will allow your apprentice (and in this case, yourself!) to show up more resiliently and more focused in the future.

What you would do for someone else, is also what you should do for yourself!

And I’m ready to do it with you!

Please join us in the Great Work Community this (and every) Friday to celebrate your wins this week! Together, we will all do more Great Work.

great work community for entrepreneurs

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.