November 9, 2023

How To Overcome External Distractions

Chris Manderino

Knowing what to do in a situation becomes useless when distractions take your focus from the problem at hand. Internal and external distractions hamper you daily, but most of them are so slight that we naturally overcome them.

But what about the more significant external and internal distractions? How do we cope with them?

The answer is to be prepared for them. You can't plan for everything, but you can prepare yourself to handle distractions so they do not make you lose focus. The techniques we cover in this article will take some practice, but they work!

Here is everything you need to know about external and internal distractions and how to overcome them.

What Are External Distractions?

An external distraction is anything outside your mind that interferes with your thoughts and actions. Anything that stimulates your senses and consequently takes your attention away from what you are thinking or doing is a distraction.

Distractions can be subjective. For instance, listening to music while you work might be therapeutic for you, but it can be highly distracting for someone else.

Likewise, complete silence helps some people focus better, while others simply can't stand complete silence, and their mind starts taking over.

What Are Their Main Forms?

Some of the main forms and causes of external distraction include:

  • People
  • Loud sounds/noise
  • Environment (the place you are in)
  • Gadgets/screens
  • Food/water
  • Call to nature
  • Communication
  • Physical health
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of a plan
  • Interruptions

Strategies To Manage Distractions

You can do a few things to reduce distractions and develop more focus on the work you are doing. However, this requires mental strength and discipline. Sometimes the distractions themselves are so appealing that you want to go ahead and do those things.

Other times, they can be irritating, and you just want them to stop so you can continue what you’re doing. The key is maintaining your motivation to do what you need rather than being distracted to the extent that you no longer want to work.


If you have difficulty focusing when other people are around, consider working from home or in a different area of the building. Another solution is to work in an office or a library where you have a cubicle setup.

Even though there might be people around, you won't be distracted by them, and hopefully, there won't be too much background noise, so you can stay focussed on your task.


You might live in a noisy area or have an office space constantly surrounded by the city's noise. If you don't mind music, a good strategy is to play music on noise-canceling headphones so you can't hear any external distractions.

Alternatively, you could wear noise-canceling headphones and play some white noise through them. This way, you won't be distracted by music and will insulate yourself from the noise in the environment.


Some people can stay focused on their work no matter where they are. They could be standing in the middle of a busy bus stand and still be completely tuned in to the book they are reading or sitting in a coffee shop and doing their work.

Sometimes the environment is unsuitable for work, there are distractions, and it can be impossible to get work done.

The best solution is to have a dedicated workspace for yourself. Whether at home or work, have a room where you have the space to yourself. This will help you work effectively and get more done in less time as you only pay attention to the task at hand.


Gadgets, especially cell phones, are among the most distracting things you can have around while working. Most students always have some kind of digital device with them, which can be both an internal and external distraction.

You might not notice the amount of distraction at first when your phone is sounding or vibrating every few minutes, but receiving notifications throughout the day can add up to a lot of lost time.

Whether you are a working professional or a student, you should not have your phone or tablet near you when you work if you can help it. If you work on a device, such as a laptop or a tablet, you can install apps that lock other apps on your devices, such as the internet browser and media player, or set limits for online browsing time.

If you need to use the internet, you can get apps blocking certain sites, such as social media platforms. 

This will force you to focus only on what you need to get done. You can also put your cell phone into airplane mode so you don't receive text messages or any notifications while you work.


When you sit down to work, you might find yourself craving food, thinking about a nice coffee or tea, or just wanting some snacks to munch on while you work. The best strategy is to prepare for this craving.

The best solution is to have a good meal before starting work. Ideally, have some fruits or nuts at your work table, a bottle of water, and a cup of your favorite hot or cold drink. This way, you have everything you need to keep going for at least the next 3-4 hours.

The same applies to restroom breaks. It's best to use the restroom before you get started.

If you need to get up in between, go straight to the bathroom and back. Don't take this as a chance to catch up with a coworker, check your phone, or stroll down to the cafeteria to see what's for lunch.

A good strategy is to set a timer when you go for a bathroom break. This way, you will have some accountability and know how long you spent in the restroom.


If you work in an office space or a coworking area with people around, you will talk to people at some point throughout the day. The best thing is not to avoid these conversations entirely but to manage your time better.

Use these moments as rewards.

Have a sticky note on your table with the time when you start to work and set a timer. You can go to your coworkers for a five-minute conversation/break if you complete two hours of dedicated work.

If you achieve the milestone and complete your study time at home, you can check social media, watch TV, or prepare a snack as a reward.

When you return, start your timer again and repeat the process.


Sometimes you just won't feel like work because you are ill or in the right frame of mind. When this is the case, you must create a priority list and choose what you want to do among all the available things.

Do you need a break, or are you just making yourself feel worse so you can take time off? Working in poor health will only make it worse for you, and the intelligent decision is to take a day off to recover properly.

The best you can do is take care of your diet, sleep, and exercise to ensure you stay in top shape. If you come down with an illness or any other problem, it's up to you to decide how bad your body feels and whether or not you should be working on that particular day.


There will always be interruptions in an office building or home office. It could be the doorbell ringing or the boss calling for a quick 10-minute group huddle. These things can't be avoided, but good management can overcome these challenges.

Develop your focus so that you have your priorities set even when you are interrupted, and you get right back to work as soon as you are done.

This will take time, but it is something you need to develop to have a productive work/study cycle.

Final Thoughts

A lot of your distraction management will come down to self-talk. By setting priorities and creating a path to achieve them efficiently, you can help yourself overcome external distractions, become more aware of what helps you work and what doesn't, and develop strategies custom-made to your situation to battle your challenges.

As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day. Overcoming these challenges and developing a solid work ethic will take time, but it can be done with dedication and consistent effort.

Managing external and internal distractions starts with ensuring that no distractions come your way; however, since you can't stop everything, the harder part is dealing with them when they arrive. 

Use the above tips to manage distractions throughout your day better and achieve the goals you have set for yourself.