Distractions. We all have them. We all get them. Today’s world is even more distracting than it was before. Maybe?
Maybe not. I’d like to think that although we have more distractions, the progress of humanity has evolved such that we have more brain capacity to handle more stimuli, distraction, or not.
The other day, I was in my Mastermind, and listening to my friend Marco talk about what distractions he has in his life. He had set up a new facebook group in order to keep himself accountable to his time. This wasn’t a problem for me since I roughly calculated that I have less than 10 hours to spend on my blog in a week. In fact, I’d be lucky to spend that much time. I caught myself thinking how wonderful it might be to not have to have the distractions of full-time work, having to come home and make dinner, spend a little bit of time connecting with the boy, then giving him a bath, and putting him to bed… then finally… finally sitting down to work on this blog.
Yep. I envy the single folks who are building their business full time, doing Youtube videos, attending webinars, and marketing their content all day long. They don’t have kids to pick up from school, entertain, feed and care for at night. They are responsible for only themselves and their businesses.
Then it dawned on me. Everyone’s got distractions, just on different levels. Sure the single folks don’t have the same family obligations as I do. (for which I am completely grateful, by the way. Distraction or not, I wouldn’t trade a single bit of my beautiful family, or my life away)
Everyone has distractions. It’s the perception of its magnitude that could possibly determine how intrusive it would be to your life. In other words, how much attention you give to the distraction determines its damaging force. At the time of this writing, the US election just ended. Everyone is up in arms about something having to do with the election. It’s an explosion of rants, hate, and fear-mongering all over social media. Distracting, to say the least. Honestly? Annoying. Here’s the rub. This stuff, distractions or not, is only going to matter in your life if you let it matter.
The magnitude of the distraction diminishes when you starve it of attention. Going back to the US election, why would you let it rule your life when you have little control over it? What purpose does it serve to jump on the bandwagon of one side or the other? How does it serve you to worry about the uncertainty of the future? It doesn’t. Why give it the attention it doesn’t deserve?
The fact of the matter is that the time abhors voids. Time needs be spent one way or the other. It’s either spent doing something aligned with what you want to accomplish, or it’s spent doing something that’s not. Productivity is therefore determined upon how you negotiate the distractions in your life. How do we master our productivity and not succumb to all the distractions in our life?
Be a Minimalist of Information
This is a tricky one. We live in a digital age. People are overrun by tweets and snapchats. They are addicted to likes, followers, and newsfeed. It’s hard to get away from the information overload. This morning, I was listening to Lewis Howe’s podcast where he interviewed one Joshua Fields Millburn. Joshua and his partner Ryan Nicodemus built up a very popular site teaching people how to live simply, without being addicted to constantly having stuff. TheMinimalists.com focuses on the physical minimalism, and more importantly the mental why, and strategy behind it.
But all of this amazing know-how can also be applied to the intangible world of information as well. One of the biggest concepts on becoming a minimalist is purging everything that no longer brings you joy. You hold the item, and if you don’t feel the joy, get rid of it. Same with information. If conceptually, you know that knowing about the US election, or whatever new crisis is going on in the world doesn’t bring you joy, strip that information from your life. Create a world where you are surrounded with only information that positively adds to your life. Include information that supports you in where you want to go. You need to be relentless in protecting your world from negativity, and anything else that doesn’t help you in where you want to go.
Quick Win: Turn off all Notifications
Everyone’s familiar with the pop ups on your smartphone, or the chime of your email notifications. Look, if you want to remove the distractions in your life, probably one of the first things you should do is to turn off every possible notification. Turn off ringers on phones. Turn off the notification chimes on your computer, and iDevices. Turn them all off. Every time your phone goes ‘Ding!’ you’re tempted to check what it is. Don’t know how to do it? Here are some links that might help you.
Start the Day with a Plan
Part of my morning routine is to plan out my day. I’ve done this for so many years that my mind literally gets lost if I haven’t planned my day yet. This is probably one of the most important things that you can do to manage the distractions in your life. As I said, time abhors voids. Time needs to be filled. Having a plan in the morning of what you want to accomplish during the day, the rest of the week, the weekend, directs your time. You’re no longer aimless.
Essentially we apply the only effective way of cleaning up your (food) diet. Everyone knows that denying yourself the bad stuff is not sustainable for long-term weight-loss. Sooner or later we will succumb to that family-size bag of Cheetos. Then we’ll be once again sucked into that vicious cycle of “I’ll do better tomorrow.” We already know it’s not going to happen. What we need to not only stop eating the bad stuff but fill our stomach with the good stuff. Same thing with time.
Change the diet of your time. Fill your time with the nutritious stuff, in addition to removing the junk. Plan your day with the important stuff and your day will be so full that you don’t have time to kill on the non-essentials.
What’s ONE Thing that Would make all Things Easier
In my post “How to Build an Empire with the ONE Thing,” I discuss one of the techniques that Gary Keller teaches: In order to knock over that next domino that would, in turn, knock over the domino subsequent to it, what is the ONE thing, that one task that would make all subsequent tasks easier? One this ONE thing is identified, dedicate a period of time to get it done. Gary advocates at least 4 hours of creation time. I think to start, you would be lucky to even bring this ONE thing to the top of your list. If you’re anything like, me I’m a list junkie. I love making my ‘Things to do Lists.’ I get a high on checking tasks off that I’ve completed. (Sick, I know.) But it’s impossible to focus on multiple different things all at once. I’ve learned over the years not to inundate myself with 50 things on my Things to Do Today list (although, my husband might still tell you otherwise). List everything that needs to be done. Pick that ONE thing, and focus on it until it’s completed, or until you’re mentally exhausted.
Get it out of Your Mind by Writing it Down
This year I started a new habit. I sometimes really wonder if I have a learned ADHD, from all the years of ‘multi-tasking’ at which I’ve pretended to excel. Sideways leaping thoughts have a habit of jumping out at me roughly every 2 minutes. So one day, I took out a scratch pad. Every time I had an irrelevant thought about something that I had to do later on in the day or another project, I’d jot down a couple keywords, so I don’t forget.
Done. Interesting to note, after writing it down, allowed my mind to relax and go back to the task at hand. It didn’t really matter if I actually followed through on that thought I jotted down. I felt more comfortable knowing that I captured whatever that idea was.
Schedule in Distraction Time and Fun Time
Another friend of mine, Frans, also part of my Mastermind, read the book The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore and was inspired to add this to his life a few months ago.
Before beginning your project, consciously schedule in a little time for tasks that are not related to your project. Yes, you actually schedule in time for your distractions. A little magic happens: when you know you’ll have the time to attend to those distractions in a little bit. You place a little more urgency on the task at hand, because you know time is limited. Hence, you focus on it more. The same thing goes with ‘fun’ time. When planning out his day, the first thing he scheduled in was all of his recreation time: his workouts, when to see a movie with his girlfriend. When he knows that there will be a time where he can relax, he discovered that his mind wandered less in the moment. What’s more is that he felt more energized in completing his tasks. He got them done faster because he knew that he had an upcoming ‘appointment’ to have fun on his calendar.
Capitalize on the Momentum
I get it. It’s super hard to go full throttle all the time. Nobody’s ‘pedal to the metal’ 100% of the time. Anyone who tells you that is either lying or in complete denial. We all have bursts of motivation and inspiration, just as we have periods of lethargy. So when you’re feeling it, when you know you’re in the zone, go for it. Do as much as you can. Don’t hold back. Go until you’re completely fatigued.
There will be times when you don’t feel like going balls to the wall. That’s ok. Be kind to yourself. In those times, just 10 minutes of focused work is better than the thought of an hour. Just do the 10 minutes. The important thing is to show up. Over the course of time, consistency is more important than effort. Sure the best case scenario is to maximize that effort every single time. But when you’re not feeling it, yet still show up and put in a working session… well… that’s way better than the sporadic spurt of insane work. When you have the momentum, milk it for all its worth. All the instances where you’re gunning it are going to bring up the overall average.
Find your Tribe
When I was in school, I always preferred to study in the library. I’m not one of those who can study in solitude at home. It’s a recipe for disaster. I’d start off with good intentions, then get hungry 10 minutes in. I’d go down to the kitchen find something to eat, then notice that the dishes are in the sink. For some reason, it would bother me so much that I couldn’t go back up without doing them. Then I’d notice that the counter needed a good wipe. Then the stove. Hours later, finally satisfied with my surgically clean kitchen, I would retreat back upstairs only to find that it’s time for bed. I’d quickly cover a few pages, just so that I could tell myself I accomplished something. After showering and snuggling cozily into bed, I’d promise myself that I’d make it up tomorrow.
Here’s the solution I found to my problem of productivity (or lack of it) in solitude. Surround yourself with people who are accomplishing the same thing.
If you’re studying, go to a library. Be among other diligent students who are studying their faces off. If you want to get a good work out, go to the gym. Surround yourself with bodybuilders who are so focused on lifting weights, you get inspired to work harder, to lift more, or just to do that one extra set to fatigue.
At work, when we need to buckle down and get some testing done, we retreat to our testing lab. It’s on a completely different floor. We tell no one. We bring only the right people. That way, we can all sit together and get our stuff done. If we have questions, we can just turn around, get the answer and move on.
I work out several times a week. Sometimes, I work out with my friend Andrea. Whenever I work out with her or anyone at a similar level to me, there is a little phenomenon. I always get a better workout, and so does she.
See, there is a tiny element of competition, even if we don’t intend on being competitive. Working out alone, I would tend to take it a bit easier on my body. But working out with Andrea she pushes me; I push her. We both benefit symbiotically.
Quiet the Mind
Another part of my daily morning ritual is to sit in solitude and meditate for 15 minutes. I literally quiet my mind. For me, it’s an integral part of my day. If I miss my meditation, my day just does not go well. I feel antsy, frustrated. Nothing goes the way I want. From my 10+ years of meditation, I’m in the midst of developing a meditation audio for peak performance in business. By the way, if you want to get a preview of this, let me know by entering your email below. You will get exclusive access to it when it’s ready.
Here’s the rub. Distractions are never going to go away. They’ll always be a part of our life, no matter what stage we’re in. The onus is ultimately on each of us to negotiate the distractions in our life. We need to protect our little bubble to sail into the sunset of accomplishing our goals. How do you choose to protect your time and focus?
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