We live in a world of distraction. It may seem accidental, but in some cases it’s deliberate – whether it’s work colleagues who seek your assistance or tech companies conspiring to keep you using their product. If you feel it’s getting worse and worse, you’re not alone.
“In the future there will be two kinds of people in the world: Those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others, and those who proudly call themselves ‘indistractable,’” Nir Eyal, author of the bestseller Hooked, writes in his new offering, Indistractable.
And it’s not just a case of removing Internet distractions. He tried to stay more focused on his writing by buying a 1990 word processor without an online connection and still found himself easily finding distractions unrelated to his work. He just replaced old distractions with new ones.
He divides the day into two parts: Traction and distraction. Distraction impedes us from making progress toward the life we seek. Traction – from the Latin trahere, he notes, for “to draw or pull” – takes us toward what we want in life.
His solution starts there, rather than with advice on smartphone usage or abandoning Twitter, since it’s bigger than even those entities. External triggers are what pull you away from intentions. Values are what can pull you forward – give you traction.
To make traction more likely, he says you need to focus on how you allocate your time in three key life domains: You, relationships and work. “You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from,” he says.
Determine your values and start scheduling your time – beginning with your own needs – to achieve your intentions. “It doesn’t so much matter what you do with your time; rather, success is measured by whether you did what you planned to do. It’s fine to watch a video, scroll social media, daydream or take a nap, as long as that’s what you planned to do. Alternatively, checking work e-mail, a seemingly productive task, is a distraction if it’s done when you intend to spend time with your family or work on a presentation,” he notes.
As well as taking time to schedule around values, once a week spend 15 minutes reflecting on how you can get more traction in the days ahead. Ask when in your schedule you did what you said you would and when you got distracted. Then figure out what changes you can make to your calendar to better live your values.
With that values-scheduling – and a determination to stick with your intentions rather than succumb to distractions – should come various practical techniques to manage the triggers that can pull you away. They include:
- Place a card – on your computer monitor or door – to indicate when you don’t want to be distracted, explaining the reasons to colleagues.
- Checking e-mail is not a problem. It’s the compulsive rechecking. Curb that.
- Work to change meeting culture so that they aren’t held to help colleagues avoid solving a problem for themselves. Insist that any call for a meeting include a proposed action, with the meeting intended to gain consensus.
- Rearrange your smartphone apps to follow the prescription from Tony Stubblebine, editor of Better Humans: First you should see primary work tools, then aspirations such as meditation apps or books to read, and finally the apps you get lost in such as e-mail and Facebook. Better yet, eliminate many of the latter and only use them in scheduled sessions on your desktop.
Join the indistractables by applying those ideas.
- Your to-do list should be a priority list, productivity coach Nancy Gaines advises. She suggests following a 3-3-3 system: Delete three items since they probably aren’t all that important, delegate three items that aren’t the best use of your time, and focus on the three of highest priority.
- Entrepreneur Seth Godin says it’s essential we make new mistakes – we don’t make nearly enough of them. But stop making old mistakes again and again.
- What’s the opposite of busyness? Sloth? Laziness? Apathy? Writer Jory MacKay says the opposite is being purposeful.
- One of the biggest problems in presentations is the overuse of visuals, says blogger Ian McKenzie. Use them sparingly. Also be guarded with colour, using no more than three to four per slide to avoid a rainbow effect.
- Instead of saying no when your colleagues are coming up with new ideas, try “we could if …” to highlight the barriers or competing alternatives for resources, says consultant Jennifer Miller.
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