The Tyranny Of Distractions

Stop the distractions! From antonkawasaki Flickr stream.

Just because there are more outlets to dabble in does not mean it is always better. I have to fight the battle just like everyone else with extreme vigilance, especially with the frequency and ease of new products that continue to flood us.

The problem is that each new software, social media system or gadget requires attention. I only have so much. The more spread out I get in things that have marginal value, the less impact my work has for my clients.

Distractions can kill productivity. You have probably had those days where the time seemed to slip away from you and you wondered what actually got done. Sometimes it is hard to focus and know what to do. I wrote a post a while ago on this topic for what you can do when you don’t know what to do.

Here are some things I do to minimize distractions and drive towards what matters:

  • Respect that distractions pull you. If you underestimate how distracting being plugged into the internet or connected on your iPhone might be, then there won’t be a focus and vigilance. It’s real. Your peripheral vision is pulled in multiple directions when there is multiple stimuli. Respect this fact first.
  • Keep clean desktops. I like working at a completely clean desk. My Macs have zero files on the desktop. When I am writing, I try to keep one tab open. This keeps my mind from wandering or wanting to manage anything else.
  • Turn off email. Email is someone else’s demand on your attention and time. You cannot control it. You can control your exposure. I like to turn it off when I am writing or working on systems. It allows me to get through the real work without interruption and get into a groove.
  • Keep a short list. I am a highly goal-oriented person. Lists keep me focused. I like to use Basecamp to keep a short list of what I want to get done. This has the effect of keeping me laser focused on the goal of getting through tasks. If it’s not on the list, it does not matter. I am locked in.

These are a few things that help me out every day. There are times I need to explore and blow some time discovering. I think it is healthy and keeps me on the edge. However, a few things truly matter every day – writing, reading, leading, and communicating with clients. Distractions can destroy what is important.

If you applied focus in your life, what distractions could you marginalize?

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