How to Be Distraction-Free and Get Stuff Done.
The modern world provides us with uncountable ways of what we could do, where we could go, how we could live.
The past wasn’t always this way. Back then, there were fewer schools to go, fewer travel options, fewer sources of know-how, fewer opportunities to design life. Life was rather about working hard than working smart. Thanks to our ancestors and their work, this has changed fundamentally.
Now, we have much more freedom to choose our path. We have many more tools and options to learn almost anything. We have the technology to travel to each corner of the world. We can pick our profession, craft, and hobby almost freely. We can have multiple chats with different people from all over the world with a few clicks.
But these circumstances result in entirely different challenges now.
We have so many paths we can take in each moment, but we barely learned to pursue one at a time. Instead, we walk in circles and wonder why it seems we barely move forward.
While we do something, we’re already thinking about the next task. Several people await an answer. And our to-do lists almost burst. As soon as we do one thing, we feel distracted by it already because we are not doing other things also important to us.
Why is that? And how can we find a way out of this adverse state of mind?
Distraction isn’t necessarily bad
If I’d need to define the word distraction, I’d call it a paraphrase for “applied option”. Indeed, the word comes from Latin dis-, “apart,” and trahere, “drag.” So distraction is when your attention is dragged away from your task or worries.
And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you have an important performance tomorrow and you’re already nervous, watching a mindless action movie will help you relax.
But it can also mean you’re dragged away from what you’re supposed to do. The following four ways can help to make tremendous steps towards real productivity.
Do you set boundaries?
One of the most supportive surroundings you can create is a timeframe reserved for meaningful work. This block-time enables you to accomplish while nothing distracts you.
The fact that you don’t set boundaries, in other words, say “No”, is one of the common root-causes of distraction. As a result, you lack an undisturbed timeframe to get ahead with your craft.
You can become aware of the fact that you can’t say “No” if you’re in your block time and suddenly
- a colleague or friend calls and you immediately answer,
- your family or spouse wants to spend time with you, and you directly pause your work,
- a notification pops up, and you answer it,
- a mail concerning a different topic pops up, and you check it,
- your messenger makes a sound, and you instantly take a look.
You are in your block-time. Don’t do anything else. Get your things done. You made a promise to yourself that you will say “No” to everything else within your block-time. Keep it.
Don’t misunderstand me. Your spouse deserves your full attention. So make block-time for your spouse. And when you do so, don’t answer work emails. Just be there with your spouse and nowhere else.
And if you communicate clearly to your family, you’re focusing on your work now, but make an undistracted timeframe for your family after it, they will be even happier about your full attention.
Don’t let external influences decide what you do next. You decide your next move. You choose how to use your time.
Don’t let your attention drift away to anything else. If your focus is justified and the topic you are pondering is essential, you guessed it:
Why don’t you make block-time for it to figure it out?
Decide how you use your time. When you do something, do it wholeheartedly.
Do you keep awareness on one task?
If you meditate, you probably made the experience that your mind tries to drift away all the time.
But it’s not the mind that drifts away. It’s the awareness that drifts from one place to another within the mind. So it’s not about forbidding the mind to speak.
The goal is to form a habit of keeping your awareness on one thing at a time. To be where you are now. It’s a mental exercise.
If you’re running, and you feel exhausted, you wouldn’t say: “I feel exhausted every time I run.” You run because you want to increase endurance and stamina to get exhausted less quickly next time.
The same is for your mind. You train it to keep your awareness on one thing at a time, to counteract drifting.
Here’s a little yet effective framework that will significantly benefit your habit of presence and awareness:
- Keep your awareness on your present activity.
- If your awareness drifts away, get conscious of it, gently acknowledge it.
- Shift your awareness back on your current activity.
You can practice this wonderfully by meditating because meditation and distraction are mutually exclusive. You can’t be distracted while you meditate. Only your awareness can drift around, which is why you meditate: You exercise to stop drifting.
You can practice the habit of awareness by mindful eating. Just keep awareness on the well-laid table, on the smell of the food, on feeling hungry, on the taste of your first bite, on the chewing, on being sated.
You can practice the habit of awareness through meaningful work. Flow state appears once your awareness is concentrated presently and gently on the one task you are doing, and nowhere else.
You can apply this awareness practice to any activity.
Just be where you are, stay there, and presently enjoy it.
Which of your activities wins the dopamine game?
This refers to the physiological ability of the body to flush dopamines as a reaction of fun, pleasure, relief, achievement, progress.
Each chunk of progress flushes your body with dopamine. But there are easier activities that have a similar effect on us to provide us with dopamines: For example, social media, watching TV, consuming drugs, playing games.
I don’t say these things are bad. I also don’t say these things are good. But if you don’t control what you consume and how often and how much you consume it, they can distract you from what you’re supposed to do.
And because of the physiological ability of your body to flush dopamines as a reaction to consuming such things, you will want more of it. Hence you’ll start to believe you need such things to feel good subconsciously.
See it this way:
Imagine you have a day with low energy, and you can’t push yourself. To feel better, would you
- would you sit down, grab a snack, grab your phone, and spend time to unintentionally scroll through the feed, or
- get some words written, some notes played with your musical instrument, some color painted on your canvas, some chunks of results done?
Both ways can provide you with similar doses of dopamines. Your body doesn’t differentiate between your tasks; it just responds to your impressions by releasing the corresponding hormones.
And yes, it’s easier to consume than to create. It’s easier to take the sunshine than to shine by ourselves.
With this in mind, build an achievement system based on your craft that provides you with dopamines due to your creative craft instead of the result of full-time pleasure.
Do you distinguish between your disciplines?
In one of his books Stefan Merath, author and business consultant, describes distraction as a result of not distinguishing between disciplines.
He uses a self-employed person to state that a self-employed person is a professional, manager, and entrepreneur at once.
A self-employed person must do the productive work of his projects, he must manage himself, and he must do the entrepreneurial tasks and lead his company.
No wonder this person feels distracted all the time: When he is doing the productive work, he isn’t setting up processes to work more efficiently, and he isn’t working on his vision.
The moment he is introducing a new system to work smarter, he isn’t doing productive work. And when he is dreaming about the potential of his company, he feels lazy.
Even you’re not a business owner or self-employed, you can still consider your life as your business.
You execute on your tasks and to-dos, you manage your time, your week, you work on your skills by reading, practicing, and you operate, handle your budget, plan, follow your vision, pursue your dreams.
You have a lot of disciplines, so whenever you execute one of them, don’t do any other interfering tasks you’re supposed to do as well.
It is one of the main reasons why you feel distracted. Because you think you need to do everything at once, even you perform entirely different disciplines.
If you reserve a time block for doing the productive work, be the professional. Don’t administer on effectiveness, on your process, on re-prioritization.
If you manage yourself, don’t do productive tasks.
If you’re in operating mode, if you realign your vision and purpose, don’t do any productive work, and don’t think about numbers and processes.
Lack of productivity often results in throwing all three disciplines together. Distraction is a symptom of executing on interfering tasks simultaneously.
Work on one distinct discipline at a time, and you will be productive.
Your take away
Here are your four questions to boost your productivity:
- Do you set boundaries? One of the most supportive surroundings you can create is a timeframe reserved only for meaningful work. This block-time enables you to accomplish while nothing distracts you.
- Do you keep awareness on one task? The goal is to form a habit of keeping your awareness on one thing at a time. To be where you are now. Yes, it’s a challenging mental exercise, but it’s worth it.
- Which of your activities wins the dopamine game? It’s easier to consume than to create. With this in mind, build an achievement system based on your craft that provides you with dopamines due to your creative craft instead of a result of full-time pleasure.
- Do you distinguish between your disciplines? Don’t try to do everything at once, especially when you perform in entirely different disciplines. Lack of productivity often results in throwing different disciplines together.
These four improvements are a sure-fire way to be more productive.
Growth results from progress.
Confidence arises with action.
Productivity intensifies with aligned focus.