Focus and distractions

5min read time

Imagine you finally managed to block off some time to do some deep work. You have your workspace set up, coffee beside you, sitting there, ready to put in the work.
But you just can’t focus on what’s in front of you.

You know you can’t force yourself to be focused, trying to hard might even distract your more. Being in a calm and productive state of mind takes effort, preparation and good habits, you need to make sure you are in good condition if you want your brain to do high intensity work.

It all starts with how you think about focus.


Focus is the sweet spot between two axes: sleep-wake and calm-anxious.

The best state for cognitive work to be in is to be as awake as possible without being too hyped up. Curious but not easily distracted. Attentive but not anxious. Calm and energized at the same time.

Focus is also limited as it costs energy to maintain.

As we discussed previously, aiming for two 90 minute blocks of deep work each day is doable and sustainable. Making sure you do everything you can to reach a nice flow state in these time periods will make your work more productive and enjoyable.



Probably the most obvious: if you are tired you can’t focus. Simple as that.

Getting the sleep you need and taking additional naps during the day will allow you to develop laser focus.


You probably heard about all the benefits meditation has but the most important part of the practice, when it comes to work performance, is the ability to re-focus.

Meditating is not about “not thinking” or having a clear mind, it’s about noticing our mind wander and then gently bringing it back to our focus point, most often our breath.

Regularly practicing this skill makes it easy to recognize when we get distracted during work. Even doing a few short sessions a week will help you get started.

Make sure to not schedule your practice too late in the day, this can negatively impact your sleep.

Know your limit

You can only focus so much. Pushing beyond your natural ability to focus may work in the short term but our overall output and work quality go down if you keep doing it.

A single focused session should be no longer than 90 minutes, which can be broken up into 45-minute blocks.

Aiming for two 90-minute deep work sessions is sustainable and effective.

In these blocks it is totally normal for the depth of your focus to vary, that’s why it’s important to remove as many distractions as possible and to use a time limit. Even if you have trouble focusing at the moment, stay with the task till the time is up and you will circle into a more focused state again.


Working out is stressful for your physiology. You release stress hormones that your body has to deal with, training the same mechanisms it uses if you stress your system with a high cognitive load.

A strong and resilient body also hurts less which could be a little bit to completely distracting.


They are designed to get your attention.

Even if you train yourself to ignore all the pings and red dots, it strains your subconscious mind to filter those distractions out.

Turn off all email and messaging notifications and make sure all the visual elements that are supposed to catch your eye are out of view.


Besides the notifications on your screen the most probable source of distractions.

Having the phone in view or even just physical proximity requires your mind to constantly ask itself: “Do I want to do something with the phone?” before remembering that you are doing something else right now. And that’s just the cases were it remembers.

Out of sight, out of mind.


Not having had a recent supply of nutrients will make your physiology more active. Your body wants food and so it needs you to be able to focus on getting some.

On the other hand, your brain needs sufficient glucose to be smart.

To get the best of both worlds, have your first work bout of the day fasted and the second one in the afternoon after a meal that left you satisfied but not stuffed.


Coffee is great. In general, but also for focus.

To get the most benefits make sure to wait 90 minutes after waking up before your first cup. Likewise, don’t have any after 4 pm to not disturb your sleep patterns.

I probably don’t have to tell you that too much coffee can make you anxious. Stay professional.

Movement / Floor work

Sitting in a chair leads to a build-up of discomfort that you can’t escape. Feeling your muscles get stiff is not the best way to keep you locked in on what’s in front of you. By working on the floor you not only prevent getting rigid but the constant, small adjustments also keep your mind in an active state.

Visual focus

You can use your visual system to influence your attention. Staring intently at a dot for 30s and therefore shrinking your field of view will put your mind in a focused state.


Focus is not black and white and like most things, we can only strive for as good as possible.

Do your best to generate an environment for your mind in which it can work at high capacity and more and more of your work sprints will leave you feeling amazed at what you accomplished.