1: intended to distract attention from something more important. 2: having the effect of turning something aside from its course.
Something that has fascinated me tremendously, especially in the last few months, is how easily we can get distracted, it honestly doesn’t take much these days. Everything around us “beeps” or “dings” or vibrates. Cellphones to microwaves, digital watches to tablets, all of it designed to catch our attention.
Also the world around us, at this very moment, a driver a few streets down is repetitively honking his horn. My upstairs neighbour seems to have decided that today is the perfect day to rearrange his apartment or replace the floorboards, I’m not quite sure which and then there’s my wife’s gum-chewing that seems to be triggering my misophonia.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that not all of us are equally susceptible to distractions, as proven by the editor, publisher, scientist, inventor and author, Hugo Gernsback in 1925. Finding the world to be littered with distractions, he invented The Isolator.
Its main purpose was to eliminate any and all noises, the narrow field of view also ensured that the user would stay focussed on the task at hand. As you can see from the above image, this device assisted Gernsback greatly in his writings, today we know that he played a critical role in establishing science fiction as a stand-alone genre.
The Isolator worked great when it came to external distractions, but it didn’t take long for Gernsback to realise and later admit, that internal distractions are just as problematic. For example, before starting this paragraph I found myself wandering the kitchen, distracted by the rumbling of my stomach. The irony of the situation did not escape me and I quickly shuffled back to finish this.
Self-doubt could also be classified as an internal distraction, that little voice in the back of our head telling us that we won’t succeed often leads to a hill of unfinished projects or half-fleshed-out ideas.
New ideas seem to have a similar impact on my own work, before I know it I sometimes find myself having somehow drifted lightyears away from my original task, which again results in the addition of unfinished tasks on my hill.
The same thing happens when we try to take on too many tasks at the same time. We all have a To-Do List that is longer than it needs to be, we try to juggle multiple tasks at the same time which often leads to us not being able to cross anything off of our list, or a substandard finished tasks.
It took me many years to accept that I am more susceptible to distractions and many more years to find an effective way of dealing with it, I can only imagine how much different my life would be if I was able to travel back in time and give this list to 18-year-old me. Then again I was so stubborn back then I would probably not even take my own advice.
You will need the following:
- A notebook and coloured pens. (Using your phone or tablet is a terrible idea seeing as you are more likely to be confronted by a distracting notification than you are of opening your notes.)
- At the start of every month, make a list of tasks or goals you wish to complete before month-end, and be reasonable with the number of tasks.
- Using a different coloured pen, number these tasks from most important to least important.
- If your list is clearly way too long, eliminate the bottom 5-10 tasks on your list. (You can always come back to your eliminated tasks if you find yourself with some time at the end of the month.)
- Make sure you have a comfortable chair and that your workstation is clean and organised.
- Replace obvious external distractions like the TV with music, preferably instrumental music without lyrics, whichever genre you prefer.
- Make use of your phone’s ‘Do not Disturb’ setting and never leave it within reach.
- Start working your way through your list.
- A new task can only begin after the previous task is fully completed.
- Use a kitchen timer and work in intervals of 45 minutes.
- Take a 5 to 10 minutes break every 45 minutes, even if you don’t want to, get up, go take a sip of water or go to the bathroom. Then get back to work.
- After the completion of a task, go back to your list and use another coloured pen to circle your completed task.
Short of finding yourself your very own Isolator, external distractions are sure to cross your path. The key is to eliminate the ones you can and tell yourself to stay focussed when confronted by those you can’t eliminate.
Internal distractions will only halt your progress when you allow them to, you have all the power.