Sarah Boyd


The 9 most powerful questions to get perspective in a difficult situation

Neuroscience Of Distraction – How To Create Focus In A Demanding World

Distractions. They are everywhere.

Whether at home or in the workplace, we are constantly bombarded with conflicting priorities and environmental cues that are trying to distract us from our task. Managing interruptions are reported as one of the top challenges to productivity in the workplace.

(Image credit @jshnaaa)

(Image credit @jshnaaa)

Neuroscience has made some interesting discoveries about our brains in regards to distractions and interruptions:

1. Studies have found that we are interrupted either internally (by our own conflicting thoughts) or externally (by environmental distractions) every 3-5 minutes from what we are trying to focus on.

2. Studies have also found that when you are in a state of flow (deep focused attention) on a highly demanding cognitive task, and you are interrupted; it takes 23 minutes to get back into the flow state on your previous task.

This has huge implications for the trends of open plan office environments, email alert systems and the basic ‘open door’ policy that has been advocated by many leadership experts.

These trends are not completely bad, but we have to have plans in place in manage them.



1. Write it down: to deal with internally distracting thoughts, have a pad & pen ready to list it down. If we have a conflicting priority that we need to pay attention to, our brain’s will attempt to hold it in our short term memory unless we write it down.

This is true for practical tasks and emotional concerns – write it down & move on.

2. Turn off email alerts: when you are needing to focus on a specific task, turn off all alerts – email, phone, social media – & focus.

3. Work in a different space: book out a meeting room, inform your oversight and work in a quiet space where most people don’t know where to find you for a period of time.

4. Create an environment of focus: for those entrepreneurs and business owners who work from home or at cafes, create a space specifically for your work. This needs to be free from the distractions of the state of your home, or free of being interrupted by everyone you know at your favourite cafe.

5. Quietness: depending on the level of cognitive demand required, you may need a quiet environment. If its slightly less demanding, music or background noise can be fine for many people. Its about being aware what affects you.

6. Create an office plan: have a dialogue with your team and the people you work with that creates a system to respect each others focused time. This plan needs to allow times for interruptions, for interpersonal relationships, but also for times of quiet focus on demanding tasks.


Managing distractions and interruptions in a positive way are key to your productivity and managing the overwhelm of demanding tasks.

Learning to work with your brain will significantly improve your control over your work – rather than it controlling you.

Now I’d love to hear from you – what practical tools have you found has helped you manage distractions and interruptions?

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