I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks but I keep getting distracted, fitting, as this is a guide to staying focused and fighting distraction.
Life is so full of distractions, although I think it’s more me than life. It’s the choices I make, the things I choose to value, the way I spend my time.
With Noe in school a few mornings a week now, my “me” time has grown exponentially. I had been craving this time to think, do and create. But I was finding the time I actually spent thinking, doing and creating wasn’t nearly as plentiful and rich as I would have liked it to be.
With each passing “wasted” day, my anxiousness began to grow. This is when I realize it was time to get real about my distraction, especially as it related to creating, and figure out a guide for staying focused and fighting distraction. Here’s the process I’ve used thus far:
Write Down Everything You Do In A Given Day
I think it’s important to know how you spend your time. Take a look at what you spend your time on and how much of that is set aside for actual creation.
For example’s sake, here’s my morning. I drop Noe off at school, come home, make tea, eat breakfast, sit down at my computer. Then…instagram…for the record, my distraction problems always start with instagram, then it’s a text, then an email, then I remember something I was suppose to do. Before I know it I have 18 open tabs in my browser, I’m halfway through ordering something on Amazon, I have text conversations going with Michael, my best friend, my sister and the very few precious hours I set aside for creating have disappeared.
By writing down everything, I’m creating a snapshot of how I spend my time so that there are no surprises.
It’s like creating a budget for your time instead of your money.
Identify Your Key Distractions
What pulls you away from what you want to be doing? For many of us it’s technology but maybe it’s organizing, socializing, complaining. Oftentimes I don’t think we even realize what we’re doing is a distraction. These distractions become habits that we give prominent amounts of time in our day to, so we begin to believe they’re important. Look at your list, of course, some of the things on it are necessary: eat, sleep, work, commute. But once you’ve put checkmarks next to those, what’s left? Likely two things: all the distractions and all the joy projects (I’ll get to those below).
Identify Your Joy Projects
What are joy projects? The things that fulfill you, that bring you energy, that make you excited, that you get lost in doing. What are those projects? For me it’s things like writing, running, cooking. Your joy projects are your creations.
Okay, now we know what our days look like, what we have to do, what we want to do and all the things we do to avoid what we really want to do. Now, let’s figure out some solutions.
Come Up With A Solution For Each Distraction
You likely already know how to fix what’s distracting you.
Is it your phone? Set it to silent so that you don’t instinctually grab for it the minute it chimes with a new email.
Is it socializing? Set aside part of your day for phone calls, texts, scrolling social media.
Is it organizing, ugh, the constant organizing of the house. I’ve started tabling things like laundry, dishes, straightening up the house for when Noe is home. Yes, it might take longer with her pulling on my pant leg while I try to throw in a load of laundry but these are also tasks that don’t need my full attention. What tasks can you do while distracted? Halfheartedly? When you’re tired? Do not use your peak creativity time for, excuse my language, bullshit!
Drill Deep Into What Keeps You From Creating
Although we might try to fix our distraction problems by mitigating the distraction itself, I think it’s important to realize that the distraction is just the effect. It’s what causes us to search for the distraction that’s most important. Let me repeat that, because I think it’s an important point, why are we seeking out distraction in the first place?
This may be the harder piece to answer but why are you allowing whatever your prime distraction is to distract you? Stephen Pressfield has a great line in his book The War on Art, “the harder the goal you’re trying to achieve, the more fiercely your distractions will hold on.”
What is it that you’re trying to avoid? For me it tends to be writing. Dissecting the deeper roots behind this doesn’t take much. Writing takes a whole lot more effort than scrolling Facebook. There’s a level of vulnerability in writing that I don’t always want to expose. Sometimes I feel stuck and don’t know what to write about. Sometimes I don’t think I’m going to write anything of value. Sometimes my self-confidence is waning. Sometimes it’s all of the above. So ask yourself, why are you avoiding your task? That will give you clarity around how to fix the root of the problem not the symptom.
Pledge Small Amounts Of Time
Running away from what we really want usually brings more discord than peace. So I’m working to push through the excuses, distractions, the negative self talk that what I’m creating isn’t worth creating. I’m pledging small amounts of time to my joy projects. Whether it’s 15 minutes for an inspiring podcast that will fuel a blog post, an hour spent refinishing furniture after Noe goes to bed or setting aside time to edit food photos. These projects bring a depth of satisfaction that I can’t achieve with my distractions.