Oh no, not another post on distractions. I know, I know but hear me out because I’ve had a good night’s sleep, tidied my desk and shut down all of my desktop applications and still;
Let me just check Facebook to see if my post has any likes.
While I’m online anyway, I may as well check my email. Nothing in from Lu but what was the email that came through from Simon last week?
Now I may as well make some coffee
Before I get to work, I’ll check my Medium stats.
Oh, my half-finished blog in Medium; I’ll take a peek at that while I’m here.
I could go on like this all day; stuck on the distraction roundabout. Every time I give into it my resistance weakens further.
On days like this, I just need to pull the breaks on the roundabout and scream STOP.
I move away from my computer, and only from there do I have a few options to salvage my aspirations from the growing sense of despair and submission to failure.
Here is what I do.
Distraction comes from within. I know this because when I’m in flow with one of my stories there could be a demolition ball smashing the walls around me and I wouldn’t notice.
One of the sources is having too many things running around in your head. So when I notice I’m on the roundabout I move away from my desk and take out my notebook.
I guess this is a form of journaling, but I STOP, move away from any devices and spend 10 minutes thinking about what the most important things to do today are.
I write the three most essential on three individual post-it-notes and get to work.
Why does this work for me?
- Because three feels achievable
- Because 3 is the beginning, middle, end of a story which puts me on the road.
- Because I’ve moved my task from my head, where it’s competing with other thoughts and given it a real place in the world.
I’ve been going on about visualisation since I heard an executive coach say that people who are motivated by positive goals are more likely to succeed than people motivated by negative goals.
What’s more powerful to you? Hope or Fear? Hope gives me momentum; fear makes me freeze and slow down.
So when I get stuck, I visualise my perfect day. It’s two blogs and three scenes for my script. It’s learning something and the only way I can do that is to push on. Today it was the first draft of a new story.
What does a whole day of success feel like?
Frighten yourself into submission by saying something out loud.
Maybe it sounds mad, but when I reach for Twitter when I should be doing something else I ask myself out loud — ‘Sarah, is this adding value to your day’ and this works most of the time.
If it doesn’t work, I know I’m tired, and I go for a nap.
When distraction hits and you become aware of it step away from whatever the source is and do a round of deep breathing. I learned this in a short meditation class I did in Headspace. It works because it stops you wherever your attention has ended up and brings you back to the now and the why.
Shut your eyes and slowly inhale and exhale five times until you’ve banished those noisy voices.
The Grand Why
Remind yourself why you are doing this task. If you’re at work and your boss is breathing down your neck to get something done, you don’t have a problem concentrating. You need to give yourself the same authoritative respect like that.
State your why, out loud if possible.
I’m writing this blog because I’ve found a way to deal with distraction and I want to share it. Repeat it.
There are also a set of ground rules that you can instigate for easy focus time. Below are mine, maybe yours are different?
- I banish my phone to another room, which means I can’t use productivity apps effectively, but on balance, this is more effective.
- I ensure that my three tasks are ones that I can finish in one section. If they’re not, then I divide them up. Then I never leave a job unfinished because that’s a bad habit to get into and an incomplete job is no good for you at all.
- I find using my computer a distraction, so where possible, I plan as much time away from it as possible. I can ditch the device for activities such as ideation for blogs, stories, lists of things to do. Where can you separate the task and distraction?
I hope you find a few of these useful. I think that distraction is a bigger problem than most people admit. I recently realised one of my big writing heroes uses a productivity app, and I was surprised. I assumed he wrote freely for 8 hours at a time.
Of course not. All thinkers have distractions.
When I look at the barriers that exist to prevent me from achieving my writing dreams distraction is at the very top. I can practice, I can learn, I can elevate my craft, but I can’t do any of these things efficiently when I’m toggling back and forth between social media channels.
I use these tactics daily now, so I hope they can help you. Or, if you don’t struggle with distraction, then please do share your tactics with me.
I write here on Medium and my own website about storytelling, writing and creativity and the things that get in the way. If you’d like to read more you can subscribe here to receive my newsletter