Robert Bowen May 20th, 2011

Distraction Management: How To NOT Procrastinate or Get Distracted

Whenever we are working on a design, facing a deadline, it is of the utmost importance that we stay on track and power through til the end. Doing whatever is necessary to keep us walking with progress over stalling with digression. All too often, we find ourselves facing a project that is somewhat hampered by our inability to become properly motivated and dive in to the design without looking back. We allow ourselves to become distracted and we linger there. Placed on pause by this distraction or sense of procrastination. It is here that we find ourselves struggling for a way to kickstart our motivation and work our way free from those hands that are holding us back. Enter today's post. Here we are going to examine a few different ways that we can attempt to keep ourselves focused and driven during a design project, so that we do not end up falling behind. So below are the distraction management techniques that we felt could assist any designer feeling the pull of procrastination or the digressive distractions that creep up in our path of productivity. If you follow the tips and implement them into your design process, then you are less likely to be pulled off topic and find yourself facing this problem.

Consider Some of Our Previous Posts

Project Breakdown

Often there are times when we first begin a new design project that we end up feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the entire scope and size of the project. And we let this overwhelmed sensation keep us from getting started. However, if we breakdown the project in the beginning into assignments of dedicated focus to tackled individually, it can feel less bewildering. Because you are not attempting to take on the entire project at once, instead you take all of those pieces and allow yourself to focus on one piece at a time. This focus can not only keep you from procrastinating any longer, but it can also help your mind keep on track and from wandering off topic and potentially off course. Sites and Services to Assist
  • BaseCampHQ premium project management software that focuses on communication and collaboration.
  • ActiveCollab is a premium tool which installs on your server or local network for better project management and collaboration.
  • Project HQ is an open source solution to your collaborative project management needs

Set Clear and Achievable Daily Goals

So if we feel overwhelmed by the scope of the project, but we are not too keen on the idea of a full breakdown for the project, then another way to come at it to combat that feeling is to set clearly defined and achievable daily goals. By giving ourselves daily project goals that are completely achievable within a day we effectively lessen the scope that we are dealing with. This makes the project seem less daunting, as we have smaller steps to focus on that will take us to the end. Rather than trying to focus on the overall outcome that seemed so overwhelming from the very start. Apps to Assist
  • Tadalist is a completely free, very popular to do list tool that is easy to use.
  • Remember the Milk is an online based to do list with great functionality that is free to use.
  • is an intuitive and easy to use online Todo list, and Task Manager.

The Bare Necessities

Now once you get started you have have to keep moving forward, and that is not always easy to do with a workspace built to distract you. So you want to keep your work area neat and refined to the bare necessities as much as we possibly can. The more that you have in your work area to distract you or keep you stalling, the more likely you are to cave to these interlopers of progress and indulge their less than productive ways. So if you are in an office setting, go minimal with your workspace to keep your mind focused on the task at hand. If you are working from home, then this is especially important. If you have a workspace that is combined with your regular living spaces, then your work environment is more than likely going to be working against you in this respect. So for those designers who have a home office, keep this a space apart from the rest. Sure you want your workspace to be comfortable, but that is not the issue here. Filling that space excessively only feeds that areas ability to keep us from focusing on our work. So we need to be aware of our environment's effects on our productivity and if necessary, keep it bare.


This can mean everything in aiding your focus. If you work straight through for hours and hours without a break, your tired mind is much more susceptible to distraction. So keep this in mind, and while you are scheduling your time to work on the design project at hand, be sure to include breaktimes in there for yourself. This will do wonders to help keep your mind fresh and focused, and less prone to diversion. Scheduling can also benefit those finding it hard to get started initially. If you have set a schedule for yourself, then you are more likely to follow it and not allow procrastination to rear its ugly head. Also use this scheduling wisely to keep you better mentally suited and less apt to be distracted by outside influences. If you have regular daily routines try to not schedule your design work against any of the peak times for your daily activities. For instance, if you are a social media hound, and you have particular times that your various streams tend to be full and a majority of those you regularly engage with are online, then do not pick those times to schedule your design work. This way your mind is not constantly being drawn towards that routine you know you are missing out on. Apps to Assist
  • Klok is a personal time tracking app with a free and premium version that can help you get your schedule under control.
  • Toggl is a time management app that promises to keep you on track with reports to help. Both free and premium versions are available.
  • Rescue Time an automated web-based time management and analytics tool for anyone serious about tracking and managing their time.

Get Specific With Your Schedule

Instead of just scheduling time to design, actually take the breakdown of the project that you have made, and schedule the individual areas of the project to work on. Get specific with your scheduling of the various pieces that you have to tackle and this will further your focus, and keep you less likely to allow digressions back and forth between areas of the project itself. And as you schedule these various project tasks, try to mix up the different times so that you are not working on the same elements or areas back to back. This will also help to keep your thought processes refreshing and uncluttered. Pomodoro to Assist
  • Pomodoro Technique can help you get the most out of your time management and may be just the key for you.
  • Focus Booster is a free lightweight Adobe AIR app that was built around the Pomodoro Technique that is simple and elegant.
  • Tomato Timer a web based Pomodoro timer that is basic and very straight forward.


This may prove somewhat difficult to do, but for some it is necessary to avoid distraction and delays. That is to stay offline. Even if you run up against barriers that you would normally turn to an online outlet for, hold off. Make notes of the problems you come across so that you may address them later. Move on to another area of the project, or to another area in the same vein that will be unaffected by this unexpected roadblock. But breaking from your flow and getting online can quickly take an unexpected turn, and by the time you look up again, an hour has disappeared. Your flow and focus have been compromised, and that never bodes well for the design. If you are using a schedule to help you stay focused, then use your break times to get online and search for answers that you may need when you return to work. Or even schedule times that are specifically just for plugging into the web. This can sometimes help with curbing the temptation to just pop online for a second. If we know that we will have time for that later, then we can allow the design to remain at the forefront of our focus. This is not to say that designers need to avoid the web to stay productive, however, it can become necessary as the web can be a huge distraction as well as a tool. So staying unplugged and offline at times can work wonders for keeping you locked on target and moving towards the project's end. Add-ons to Assist
  • Leechblock for Firefox is a simple productivity tool designed to block any time-wasting sites that sap the productivity from your day.
  • StayFocusd for Chrome increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time you can spend on any sites you consider time-wasters.

Keep the Project Fresh

The moment we start getting bored with the project and the design, then we are begging for a distraction, or worse we put off the work altogether. Looking for something to engage us and reconnect us with fun. So we have to do all that we can to keep the project feeling fresh, fun, and exciting to hold our focus. Find ways to push the proverbial envelopes and challenge yourself throughout the course of the project so that it continues to hold your interest. Naturally there is a balance to strike here. You want to keep yourself intrigued but you do not want to compromise the design in the process. So find ways to keep yourself captivated by the project however you can, but keep in mind that you still have a goal and a deadline on the horizon. We cannot allow our project to become the distraction.

Reward System

If all else fails and the project seems to be barrelling towards boring, then keep yourself engaged and interested with a sort of personal reward system that you employ while you work. In the vein of video game achievements and the like, establish certain milestones for the project that once you achieve, you get some sort of predetermined prize for yourself. This does not have to be anything major, or even tangible, just whatever works for you personally. Like an extra break in your schedule, or whatever you can think of to keep the project engaging and progressing.

Share Your Progress

One way to keep yourself focused and highly motivated to get your design work handled is to commit to sharing your project progress with others. Be it the client, a close circle of design friends from the community, or even an online audience that you are sharing your 'dailies' with. As long as you have promised to share some kind of virtual progress report with someone, you tend to be more driven to actually get the work done and turned in. This also allows for us to get some sort of feedback on our progress, which can always come in handy as we work through the project. Once again, we have to understand that processing and implementing all of the feedback, especially if we are sharing daily, can be just as much as a derail as it can be an aid. Balance is important here as well. Sites to Assist
  • Forrst is a community driven invite site dedicated to providing thoughtful critiques, and sharing knowledge to build better applications and websites, and more.
  • Dribbble is another invitation based site for designers to share their work with a sort of game like system that it is built upon.
  • Behance is a free online community for designers and more to come together and share their work with others in the community and beyond.
  • Concept Feedback is a premium service where members can share their work with other designers and get useful, honest feedback on their projects in progress.

Isolation Equation

There are occasions when just having someone familiar in the vicinity of our workspace can be as much of a distraction to our progress, or even to getting started, so there are instances where we might need to add a little isolation into the equation. Especially those who are working as part of a team, may find it benefiicial, at times, to get away from the other members and work on the project alone. So isolation can be an easy way to keep those accidental acquaintance interruptions from stealing large, productive portions of your work day from you. This tends to be why most designers who work from home, maintain an office area away from the rest of their families. Just like unplugging from the internet, virtually unplugging from the world around you can increase your ability to remain focused.

Keep Healthy and Rested

Finally, one area to keep in mind is our physical and mental well being. If we allow our health to decline, or our mind and body to fatigue then we are more prone to having our focus and drive impacted. So it is important to get enough sleep and exercise, along with a balanced healthy diet to keep our mind sharp and alert. Design is an intricate and at times delicate field, that some would call an art, so keeping both our mind and our body in as peak of a condition as we are able can do wonders for our attention and motivation with regards to our work.

In Conclusion

That wraps up this end of the discussion, but as always, things are just getting started. Now we turn the comment section and the topic over to you. What are your thoughts on staying motivated and focused on your design work. What techniques or processes do you implement and employ to aid you in this? Feel free to leave us your two cents! (rb) Featured Image by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Robert Bowen

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.


  1. Time wasting is definitely a web designer and developers worst nightmare. What Ive found that helps me is taking my laptop to a starbucks, putting some metal on (or your music), drinking coffee and getting in the zone for hours. Otherwise, ill end up like the guy in the main picture.

  2. Hard to work on a computer and have Facebook and Twitter… just… a… click… away. Must… not… look! Must… not… comment! ;)

  3. Since discovering Pomodoro my productivity has skyrocketed. Because I tend I know a Pomodoro-circle is not accomplished unless I dedicate the whole circle to the task at hand, it helps to completely focus on it.

    Highly suggest this method!

  4. Reading your article was a distraction from the work I’ve been trying to get done… aaaarghhhh!!!!

    Must… focus….!!!

  5. Many people procrastinate to some degree – but some are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them fulfilling their potential and disrupts their careers.

    The key to controlling this destructive habit is to recognize when you start procrastinating, understand why it happens (even to the best of us), and take active steps to manage your time and outcomes better.

    1. Thanks for that thoughtful reply. I think it is key to be able to recognize the symptoms and course correct before it is too late!

  6. If you plan your day and take well deserved breaks, the only thing that was left and needed is the pleasure for work.

  7. this is awesome… implementing it right away!!!. But could you do a follow up article on an effective work space for a web developer? Especially home office

  8. Well, it only took me 3 days to read the article. I’ll try some of the techniques right after I comment and update my twitter status, and …. oh looks, shiny….

  9. AS always I love the post however the ironic things is while reading this I am procrastinating from the website I need to make from a client which is turn means I am procrastinating from my school work.

    My brain is confused with procrastination! ARGHH!!!!

  10. Distraction happens accidentally or by choice of something. How can we avoid accidental distraction? But thanks for your tips it really helps me a lot.

  11. Hi Robert,this article is a masterpiece!
    I took it all in,and now I am ready for a new start.No more distractions!Thank you and please have more coming my way.



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