The Simple 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distractions

Avoid distractions with these 5 simple stepsWe live in the era of distractions.  There is no doubt about this.

The number of distractions we face each day seems endless. When we get mired in the larger web of distractions, including the internet, busywork, errands, e-mail, and shopping, we can lose sight of the activities, people, and actions that will bring us happiness, satisfaction, and contentment. We get sucked into short-term distractions and quickly forget what really makes us feel good.

What is the cost of being overly distracted?  The costs of giving in to distractions are many.  We may lose:

  • our sense of self-efficacy
  • our free time
  • our sleep
  • our money (think shopping sites)
  • our safety while driving
  • our connectedness with others, including our children and our friends
  • our way (literally)
  • our time to plan our projects mindfully
  • our time away from various digital devices
  • our organized self (because we don’t have time to put things where they belong)
  • our grade point averages
  • our learning opportunities
  • our time to exercise
  • our time to create new things and experiences
  • our sense of calm
  • our time to be relaxed

What keeps us in a distracted mode? It seems there is more pulling us away from our work and focus than pulling us towards it. We can be stuck in distraction zone because:

  • we don’t feel confident about moving forward
  • we are too tired to concentrate well
  • we are afraid of missing out
  • we think we have to cover all of our bases all of the time
  • we have never been very good at maintaining good focus
  • we are addicted to the streams of information that social media and services like Netflix provide
  • we have difficulty stopping ourselves once we start something
  • we have become accustomed to not getting things done efficiently, so we don’t clearly see the time wasted when we’re distracted

If you’re currently struggling to separate from social media, clutter, minor matters, or other distractions, I have a few suggestions for you to consider.  If you implement these 5 simple steps on a consistent basis, your difficulties should start to wane.

The Simple 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distractions

1.  Make sure you have one priority focus.

Get real with why you are where you are.  If you are a student, remind yourself of your purpose.  If you are an employee, remind yourself of your aim at work.  If you are an entrepreneur or a freelancer, decide how you want to maximize your productivity.  I have found this to be a particularly hard trick to master, as I like to flit and float among several different ideas and projects all at once. When I’m honest with myself, I know I get my most meaningful work done when I know what my priority goal is.

2.  Write your plan down.  

There is something magical that happens when you write things down.  Use that magic to connect with your purpose, to focus your attention, and to get the distracting, unformed thoughts out of your head and onto paper.  Writing your plans down will do you a world of good.

3.  Be brave in the face of your lack of understanding.

So often, we become stymied by what we don’t know.  Instead of freaking out about not knowing what to do, decide to see the moment as just one part of the entire experience of getting something done. When we accept that there will be gaps in what we know, we will be able to stay the course better while working.  We can steel ourselves against the sudden impulse to flee the discomfort of not knowing what we are doing.

4.  Separate work from play/distraction.

Being able to separate work from play is one of the great keys to beating Procrastination.

When we allow distractions like Facebook into our workspace, we instantly mix work and play.  When we do this, both work and play get diluted.  We no longer get the bang out of our work, and we no longer get the pure joy out of our play.  And we find ourselves adrift in the distractibility zone.

Practice isolating work from play, even if the work and play times are very brief.  Work single-mindedly for 15 minutes.  Play for ten minutes.  Rotate these periods if you like. Expand them as you like.  But don’t mix them together.  Train yourself to resist being distracted.

5.  Have a sense of gratitude for your work.

Although the distractions these days tend to be enjoyable, light-hearted, or connecting us with friends and family, deep down inside we are aware that our greatest feelings of satisfaction come when our intentions match our behaviors.  When we let ourselves drift away from our focus, we lose control of our sense of purpose and our sense of agency.

Let’s get a handle on the distractions in our lives.

There is no need to eliminate distractions.  We need them to pass the day, to make things light, and to enjoy ourselves when things get rough or stressful.  That said, many of us natural-born Procrastinators will benefit from sharpening our ability to focus and to manage distractions more effectively.  Find the clearest, cleanest, most efficient way to move through the day.  The payoffs will be worth the effort.

Related:  The 30/30 App: A Free Tool to Boost Your Focus and Productivity7 Tips to Help You Become a Master Scheduler

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Try These Techniques to Reduce Your Distractibility

We are immensely creative beings, we humans.  And for that, sometimes we pay dearly.  We make ourselves crazy with running around, trying to cover everything and not forget everything, while also making sure we never miss a Facebook post or the latest tweet.

It’s really no wonder we get distracted.  There is just so much to look at these days.  And that’s just the stuff outside of our brains.  The carnival that is happening in our own brains is another enormous source of seemingly endless distraction material.

Just in case you are beginning to think you don’t get distracted, I thought I’d give you some reminders of how you might lose your way:

  • wondering if your bill payments got to their destination
  • admiring your clutter
  • thinking you should really schedule that dentist appointment
  • remembering today is recycling day
  • getting into arguments with people to get yourself out of some work you want to avoid
  • minding someone else’s business
  • caring about what other people think of you
  • feeling guilty about not calling your grandmother
  • focusing on how you are appearing to others rather than focusing on how you are being with others
  • shopping for an extra two hours more than you needed to
  • figuring out excuses why you shouldn’t do what you really should be doing

As you can probably figure, this list could go on forever. So — how do we creative human beings gain some traction on the ever-growing list of distractions?  Here are a few ideas about how to think about distractions and your tendency to use them:

  • Distractions are everywhere.  Make peace with that fact.
  • You have the power to choose how to work.  With distractions or without.  Some people do well with background smells and sounds of a coffee shop.  Others need a silent, uncluttered environment.  Decide which camp you fall in.
  • There are positive elements to distractions, such as daydreaming, which can help you to take a break or to come up with a new, creative idea.  Creativity itself often involves taking our minds and hearts into a new zone.
  • Try your best to distinguish when you are using distractions positively, to rest or to create, and when you are using them to avoid or to distance yourself from things you feel are stressful.  That extra bit of mindfulness can make all the difference when you are really aiming to get something done.

To take care of the entire list of distractions above, use the following techniques:

  • Write all of your floating thoughts about things that are due on a paper calendar, so you’ll remember to take the recycling out without having to think about that idea over and over again.
  • Do some housecleaning.  By that I mean, take care of the smaller items on your list of to-do’s that have been neglected because you have been minding the bigger items.  I’m borrowing the housecleaning idea from Leo Babauta because it is great.  I used his suggestion a few days ago, and it really was terrific.
  • Mind your own time.  Don’t give it away to other people unless you really want to and it benefits you in some way.  Don’t get overly involved with other people’s business.
  • Automate your bill payments.  Take a few minutes today to get this done and save time and aggravation (and money) right away.
  • Simplify your life.  That reduces the need for the shopping distraction.  It also does away with the clutter distraction.
  • Call grandma today (or another loved one) today.
  • Don’t get too elaborate in the how’s and why’s of it.  The excuses drain your motivation and take you in the wrong direction.  Move forward towards your goal and be on the lookout for moments when you are tempted to veer off course.  If you spend 95% of your working time coming up with reasons to fear your work or to run away from it, rein yourself back in.  Press pause on your brain.  If you are working overtime to concoct scenarios that don’t exist, e.g. “I can’t do this,” or “She hates me,” then you won’t be able to work at all.

If you have tried all of the above techniques and you find yourself hopelessly vulnerable to distractions, I’d recommend you consult with a professional.  You may have an attention or an anxiety problem which might be significantly helped by the assistance of a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Best wishes as you try to get on top of your distractions.  As always, I wish you luck in your endeavors.

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