I work from home and have only ever held a “real” job for one year in 1995. In my workspace, I have a large computer screen that allows many programs and windows to be open and I have just added a second screen which will allow for even more screen viewing. I am completely and utterly addicted to Facebook, although my kids say this is passé and so I’ve just begun to dabble in Twitter and Instagram, which clearly presents another issue. I adore Pinterest. And, yes, it is porn for creative people. I have a to-do list that is, thankfully for this freelancer, always growing. I have a studio full of delicious art supplies and half-done projects that are constantly calling to me and I am always saying yes to another one. I need to run or exercise just about daily. I like to think about food and to cook stuff from scratch. I have kids who still live at home. I have a great boyfriend who is tons of fun to hang out with. Oh, and there is this thing called sleep that I like to do whenever possible.
And, did I tell you? I am Easily distracted. And, please note, that is easily with a capital “E.” I’m pretty sure that once upon a time, had there been such a time in my youth, I would have been diagnosed with ADD and there isn’t a teacher on this planet who had me in their class that would ever tell you that I “made good use of my time.” I’ve written about my chronic procrastination issue, which really goes hand-in-hand with distraction, but distraction, on its own, is a really big demon of mine.
Oh, wait! I think I just saw something shiny!
See, the problem with all of this is that sometimes I actually have real deadlines. REAL ones. Deadlines that involve real stuff like financial proposals and other people in their other real lives and their deadlines. Deadlines that involve my financial well-being and livelihood. Deadlines that, if they were not met, would make others very upset and would have a terrible impact on my career. When I have something like this on the line and distraction comes in, it’s important to know how to cope with it.
For me, dealing with distraction is a constant challenge but, over the years, I have learned two important things. First thing is that a big part of it, procrastination–is my percolation. This period of percolation is as necessary to me as studying, outlining and brainstorming are to other people. I have to delay the project to the eleventh hour–which, for me, isn’t actually the eleventh hour but the exact right hour to dive head in and be overwhelmed. Second, when distraction comes into play during my work period, I must have a strategy to deal with it. So, here it is:
1. Set the stage for the task. You can call this a ritual if you want but really it is just getting your space ready for the task at hand in whatever way works for you. For me, this often has a little OCD element to it which looks very much like cleaning and reorganizing and, when it comes to my studio space, can include a complete overhaul of my materials but fortunately only takes a couple hours and seems to work out some of my more compulsive tendencies. So, perhaps, set a time, clear a space, put on the kind of music you love, make a cup of coffee or tea, do your yoga… whatever it is that gets you into a space to focus on something, that is what you need to do and do it now. And, when you do it, fully do it. Be present and feel what you are doing to prepare yourself for the task.
2. Turn off the “stuff.” That’s email, Facebook, instant messenger, your phone, whatever. What is it that is keeping you from your task? Turn it off. It is pretty likely that no one will die if you aren’t available for 30-60 minutes.
3. Thirty to sixty minutes? Can you do that? No? Maybe you can’t and that’s okay. But, what can you do? Think about how much time you believe you can truly devote to your task and put that number in your head. If you think you can only be focused for ten minutes, then BE focused for ten minutes and don’t let anything else seep into your attention.
4. I know I said it already but it bears repeating: BE focused for whatever amount of time you have set for yourself. And, if ten minutes is your starting period, see if you can increase that over time to fifteen, thirty and up to an hour or more. Get into what is known as “zone” and “flow” and watch this attention period increase.
5. Reward yourself with your distractions! If you have successfully put in your time on task, well, then go for Facebook, Pinterest, video games or whatever your favorite distraction is! This is not about abolishing who we are but, instead, about being able to balance the parts of our lives that pull for our attention.
6. Reflect. How did it feel to be immersed in that task without distraction? Would you like to do that again? How would it be to be able to be in control of your tasks and distractions? Imagine that you could eventually organize your day so that your “distractions” were not intruding on your ability to complete your tasks?
Distraction can keep us from our goals, can keep us in perpetual procrastination, can completely paralyze us. It’s true and I know it. Days can fritter away and make us into slackers. Smart people like us, however, can make plans and implement them in order to be the best versions of our selves. We can conquer these silly little shiny things. We can choose to let our selves enjoy them at another time of our choosing and get the things done that we need to get done.
TRY THIS WEEK: Implement your plan to combat distraction.