Take a moment and think of all the distracting things you've given your attention to today outside of family, work, and other critical responsibilities. How much time do those distractions add up to? 30 minutes? An hour? Maybe more, maybe less. That's a single day, now imagine what that looks over the course of a month or year. It's plain to see that distraction is killing our efforts.
Distraction comes easily
The simple truth is that it's really easy to get distracted. It can happen without giving it much or any thought. Lose your focus and boom there goes 30 minutes that you could have used drafting that proposal or having that conversation you don't have time for.
Distraction is easy because it's something we choose to do in place of something we would rather not do. When we allow ourselves to get distracted we're deferring the work and choosing something easier. Distraction can be something you like to do, or it can even be something you wouldn't otherwise choose, such as a less than valuable task.
It's not that distraction is always bad. There is a time and place to let your mind free. But distraction can cripple or destroy your progress when you give into its allure instead of doing the work.
Getting focused feels harder
When you are distracted and trying to get focused it feels like a lot of work. You sit down to focus on what you need to do, check one thing off, and find yourself back on Twitter 5 minutes later. The long term application of focus requires discipline, it means putting off the things that keep distracting you and actively choosing to do the things you need to be doing.
I think it's easy to understand the value of 30 minutes of work compared to 30 minutes on Instagram or catching up on headlines. The simple fact is we all know the value of a focused day of work. We just can't seem to bring focused effort into our lives on a consistent basis. We make excuses, we rely on the work we completed yesterday or commit to catching up tomorrow.
So much of this has to do with the way that we are "feeling," our energy or motivation levels. The truth is those are terrible tactics to rely on for getting focused. Here are 4 better ones.
1. Choose Discipline, Not Autopilot
If you've been following me for anytime then you have heard me talk about Discipline Over Default and not allowing ourselves to run on Autopilot.
There are times when we might choose distraction, especially when it's something we enjoy doing rather than what we should be doing. These are intentional distractions, and choice means that we were in control of the decision. I'm less worried about these distractions as they are easier to solve for. The other form of distraction is when we allow our minds to run on autopilot. This is when we are in our work environment ready to work but a lack of disciplined focus keeps YouTube open and our phone in our hand.
In either format, choosing to build discipline can bring our focus back to where it needs to be. Discipline is not rigidity, it doesn't mean we can't choose to play a round of golf on a workday or enjoy catching up with friends on a social media. A disciplined person simply doesn't choose distraction instead of doing the work.
Okay, but how do I start building discipline and avoiding distraction? Great question. Let's make it really simple. Make a commitment right now to not get distracted, within your control, for the next 30 minutes. At the same time commit the next 30 minutes to focusing on what you need to be doing and then start doing it. That's it. You can adjust the times to your own needs. Do an hour if it feels right.
What people get stuck on is the idea of an entire day of uninterrupted discipline and focus, this can cause burnout or quitting altogether. Just take it 30 minutes at a time, when that 30 minutes is done, do another, then another, then another. Take mental and physical breaks as needed in between.
2. Update Your List Daily
I think everyone has a list on their desk or device of the most important things they need to be focused on doing or thinking about. For instance on my list for today is to finish this blog post. I find keeping track of these priorities to be incredibly valuable, especially for someone who has focus and discipline. It's really easy to lose sight of what needs to get done or forget a task that you should have completed.
Whether you completed any tasks the day before or not, I find the best practice is to start each morning with a clean sheet. Write/Type something like "THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS FOR TODAY" at the top of the page. Then start on your list. I think most people likely had a few tasks from the day before that weren't completed, that's okay, reevaluate those and bring new perspective to those tasks on today's list.
This is helpful as it starts the day with a focused task of listing what you hope to achieve that day, it removes any of the uncertainty about what you need to do first and what to do after you have completed a couple of our normal daily tasks.
3. Tighten Deadlines
There are two types of college students: 1. the student who uses the time given to complete their research paper 2. the student who uses the last 12-hours before the paper is due to complete the paper. Regardless as to which of these two you identify most with, it is easy to see that deadlines are an effective mechanism for completing a task. It is difficult to start and complete something when you're not clear on when it should be completed, this uncertainty allows for procrastination and distraction to creep in.
Given that the deadline is longer than needed to actually complete the work required, it can be beneficial to commit yourself to a tighter deadline. Many of us are setting our own deadlines or timelines in our businesses/teams. If this is you, making a deadline commitment requires discipline as you can simply move the deadline since it was you who set it in the first place. If you have the discipline needed to commit yourself to tighter deadlines that are reasonable this is a great tool for cutting out distraction.
4. Shift Your Priorities
There might be a task that keeps derailing your focus, maybe you still need to make some decisions before progressing, or maybe you just don't want to do it right now. Either way, the best thing might be to move on for the time being and revisit it later. Instead of using your time getting distracted while trying to complete a task you've actually focused on some other work and avoided distraction. When you revisit that task later you can reevaluate what it was that kept leading to distraction, and make a plan to avoid it. Sometimes checking a few things off the list gets you in the right mindset to tackle a more difficult task.
Act fast because distraction is killing you.
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