Guilty of aimlessly scrolling through social media, guilty of doing my washing while in a Zoom conference meeting with the camera turned off and on mute, and guilty of doing content research while on a Telehealth video appointment with my therapist…Yes, I really did that. That was the day when I decided I had to STOP.
As my days are now filled with more and more things to do, tasks to complete, home chores, it only seems natural to multitask and/or to distract myself. Browsing news feels urgent and important in the current environment and I don’t even take breaks because…well, I’m working from home.
If you just like me feel hopelessly distracted and are a natural-born procrastinator or have to juggle with competing priorities, read on to learn more about hacks I’ve integrated into my routine to avoid distractions, focus on the task at hand, and gain more air in my life. But before we dive into that, let’s analyse what distractions are and where do they come from.
Nil Eyal, author of Indistractible, defines distractions as things that can derail our progress, something we do that moves us away from what we really want. They distract our attention and put us off course.
The opposite of distraction is traction, from Latin trahō, trahere; (“to pull, to draw”). Traction is something we do that moves us towards what we really want.
What’s tricky is that any action can potentially be a distraction! The difference between action and distraction is the intent.
Distractions can be internal or external. External triggers come from our environment: news, social media, a colleague, answering your mom’s text. The internal distractions come from within us: thoughts, emotions, negative feelings, hunger, thirst, hot/cold, etc. Internal triggers can include thoughts about pressing responsibilities or pleasant things that you’d rather be doing, emotions about life circumstances, fears, and worries (1).
Once you learn how to tell one from the other, controlling them becomes easier.
Have you ever heard of the Ulysses pact? Ulysses knew he was powerless resisting the Siren’s seductions, so he had his minions tie him to the mast as they sailed. The takeaway? Bind yourself to the future. Human willpower is limited and often time is not enough to resist temptations. If you pre-commit to something and adopt strategies around achieving your goals, you won’t have to rely merely on your willpower.
The antidote to distraction is forward planning and following your intentions. Design a winning system before spending too much time thinking about your goals. Plan every single day in as much detail as possible. Include in your schedule all the things you’re planning to get done and block dedicated time for each one of them. Don’t leave out leisure time and breaks, they’re just as important.
Time blocking can help you regain control of your day and ensure that you are effectively spending time on the things that matter to you. Use this technique to spend less time checking emails and more time managing the important projects of the day. Deliberately indulge in the things that move you forward, choose education over entertainment when possible. Be ruthless with the things that move you away from where you want to get.
- It is much easier to concentrate if you work on a specific task for a short 25-minute burst without distractions where you can devote yourself fully to your activity without trying to multitask.
It is not mandatory to use technology to stay focused, but there are several tools that can make your life easier. You can use a timer. I enjoy using an app called Forest which helps to break phone addiction, encouraging to focus on one task at the time for 25 minutes. You can take a 5-minute break after or keep doing work for another 25 minutes. The rewarding feeling is great, and it works. Plus, Forest team partners with a real-tree-planting organization to plant real trees on Earth. I’m sure that our environmental engineers out there would love this idea 🙂
- When you’re distracted by anxious thoughts, fears & co (and who isn’t these days?), you can use pen and paper to jot down thoughts as they come to your mind. Don’t be judgmental and don’t categorize them in bad and good. Just keep a notebook handy and every time you get distracted by a negative emotion or something you feel compelled to address right away, write it down and deal with it later.
A good life does not require you to banish procrastination completely. It is about making decisions with intent and awareness.
Don’t steal from your future self!
Hope this was useful PMWs! Let us know how you deal with distractions and procrastination.
The PMW Team
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