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It is the year 2021, where life is one big fight against a constant barrage of distractions.
People think they are busy being productive when in fact people are busy being distracted.
Busy answering the beep of the constant (and slightly annoying) notification. Busy scrolling social media. Busy waiting for something to grab their attention—anything. Busy making to-do lists to make them feel productive.
They never achieve what they need to achieve and feel like they are on a hamster wheel— trying to keep up with life.
Time is so precious. As we get a little older, we realise this more. We all have the same 24 hours in the day.
My advice: don’t waste it being distracted or spending time on the wrong thing.
Let’s talk about distractions.
Distractions usually fill a void when we feel bored. Or they jump up and down grabbing our attention when we are trying to start something that might make us feel uncomfortable, or where the thing we are trying to complete is labelled difficult or something mundane.
Our mind immediately looks for a big, shiny distraction.
Once we are aware of this, we can become a distraction ninja. Ready to smile and say “hello distraction” and counter-challenge back to take control of our precious time.
Let’s delve a bit more.
The number one type of distraction is procrastination, where we are attempting to do something and suddenly our mind finds all these excuses and reasons not to do the thing. It feels like a trick. And it is. It is a delay from feeling uncomfortable, doing hard stuff, or making decisions.
How do we combat this?
We become super aware of the reason for procrastination, acknowledge it, and trick our brain by doing something, anything, one thing linked to what we should be doing. Five minutes of action will nudge us back on track, refocus our attention on the thing we should do, and the next thing we know…success! We have completed the task that was being derailed.
I procrastinate before a run. I can feel my mind hunting down for a distraction. I’ve even cleaned my flat instead of running. I always eventually run but end up running hungry as I’ve eaten into my run time by cleaning. It is so wild.
Now, I explain to my mind I know what is happening. I allow myself to procrastinate for an allocated time, maybe 10 minutes. Then I grab my trainers, and once they are on, I am one step closer to heading outside to run.
Sometimes a distraction is only meant to fill a small gap in our day, but then it suddenly hijacks our day. “Oh, I will just check social media for five minutes…” Then, one hour later, we are deeply lost in someone’s page. Our precious time gone forever.
In this situation, what is key, again, is self-awareness.
Have your to-do list ready. When a gap appears, fill it with something productive. Or give yourself a social media limit—20 minutes to scroll online, and then switch off your mobile data.
Distractions come in all forms: social media showing us everyone’s best life, the beep of our phone enticing us over as if the phone is shouting “Come look at something that might dull your boredom…someone else’s life,” checking emails for an update, online shopping—really, doing anything but the thing we need to do.
How do we win the distraction battle?
We become super self-aware.
Monitor when the distractions come—are you bored? Tired? Do you have too much to do and cannot decide what you should do? Or, is the thing you should be doing going to be difficult? Be clear on your daily, weekly, and monthly priorities. What is the one thing that needs to be actioned today? Then build strategies around this.
Here is my distraction toolkit:
1. Remove distractions
>> Turn off notifications: no more active distractions.
>> Switch on airplane mode when you need to focus on an important task.
>> Switch off mobile data: let people know if they need you to call.
>> Regular social media detox: free yourself and your mind.
>> Remove the main apps you use to distract yourself from your phone’s home screen. It is easy to distract yourself, so make it harder.
>> Hide your phone in a different room so when you reach out to distract yourself, it is nowhere to be found!
2. Manage Distractions
>> Schedule in scroll time and use it as a treat. Limit the distraction where possible.
>> Use it tactically when waiting for something (like to fill dead time). For example, when waiting for the kettle to boil use this time to check your emails.
>> Pop your one thing or list of things that need to be done in your calendar on your phone, in clear sight in the house, and set reminders to keep track. When you feel the distraction urge, check in on your to-do list.
3. See Distractions as a Mental Toughness Activity
Feel the urge to be distracted and tell yourself to do something else productive. Ride that wave. Strong self-talk will help you. If you ride out the urge for the first five minutes and start the thing you are being distracted from, you will have beaten the urge.
4. Beat the Distractions and “Eat the Frog”
This is a concept introduced in the book of the same name. Do the hard thing first, as soon as you can—then you have won the day. Everything else after that is a bonus. Boom!
5. Challenge yourself
Talk to yourself when you feel the distraction is happening. “Why am I on social media when I have a pile of clothes to iron?” Make the thing you are procrastinating over more fun so you don’t want to distract yourself. Iron while listening to a podcast, your favourite music, or while watching your favorite show. Win-win.
Distractions are perfectly normal. Motivation is not constant. It is our job to become aware every time we feel the urge to procrastinate or waste time—and then counter it.
Before you know it, you have turned it into a game where there is only one result: you 1, procrastination 0.
Let the games begin.