During the average afternoon, you are subjected to more distractions–both willingly and unwillingly–than previous generations experienced in an entire month.
An endless stream of notifications, new content, advertisements, and other time sinks constantly pull at our attention, distracting us from the tasks and projects that matter most.
To succeed in the modern world, you must learn how to control and conquer distractions or they will control you.
Here are 5 simple (and counter intuitive) tactics you can implement to beat distraction once and for all.
Let’s dive in.
1. Allow Yourself to Be Distracted (With a Caveat)
One of the most counter intuitive, yet effective habits you can implement to overcome distraction and make real progress on the things that matter is…
…To surrender to and accept distraction.
Listen, if you’re anything like me, there’s no end to the number of distractions pulling at the strings of your mind.
Articles you want to read, courses you want to finish, podcasts you want to listen to, and social media channels through which you want to scroll are in no short supply.
“Ooh, Sally is in Colorado right now, I wonder if she’s posted any cool pictures on Instagram?”
“Oh snap! Craig Ballantyne just uploaded a podcast with the $100,000,000 man! I really need to check that out so I can grow my business.”
“Wait! Elon Musk did what on Joe Rogan’s show? I’ve gotta see this.”
Yet oftentimes, fighting these distractions often makes them more tempting.
When you deny these desires and leave these loops unclosed for too long, they become more deleterious to your productivity and success than simply giving in.
Your brain cannot handle the ‘not knowing’ and will continue to pester you until you cave and spend an entire afternoon binging YouTube videos or skimming through an endless stream of social media updates and new articles.
So what’s the solution?
Give into these distractions…In moderation.
Instead of trying to work through the entire day and spend 8-12 uninterrupted hours focused only on your work, break up your day into blocks.
Work for 25-50 minutes and then set a timer for 10-20 minutes and allow yourself to explore your distractions, guilt-free.
With this simple method, distractions immediately lose their potency.
You no longer think to yourself, “Man I really want to check xyz…But I can’t until tonight.”
Instead, you think, “Man, I really want to check xyz…But I need to finish up this block of work. I’ll do it in 15 minutes.”
The shorter time-to-distraction makes it easier for you to stay focused now and allows you to enjoy your distractions without sabotaging your productivity.
2. Give Yourself Less Time to Complete Tasks
One of the lesser known traits of massively successful people is masterful procrastination.
Let me explain.
In Tim Ferriss’s now-classic business book The 4-Hour Work Week, he explains something known as Parkinson’s Law–the idea that work will expand to fill the time you’ve allotted for it.
If you give yourself six weeks to complete a task (god forbid), it will take six weeks.
If you give yourself a week, it will take one week and so on and so forth.
Successful people understand and apply this principle through the careful application of intentional and masterful procrastination.
When you give yourself too much time to complete a task, distraction and boredom become inevitable. There’s no reason for you to stay focused and complete the task quickly–so you don’t. You succumb to distraction and find yourself completing the project at the last possible minute, degrading the quality of your work and causing unnecessary stress.
Instead, procrastinate with intention.
Don’t wait until the last minute. But wait just long enough that there is a sense of urgency to your work.
Urgency breeds intensity which in turn breeds efficiency.
When you have only a few days (or a few hours) before an impending deadline, distractions become a non-issue and an unaffordable luxury.
You know the feeling that arises when you are forced to condense 12 hours of work into a six hour work day.
Flow states come easily, distractions are kept well out of mind, and a laser like focus and intense determination seems to be the only state in which you are capable of being.
And you can cultivate this state each and every day by mastering procrastination and making your deadlines work for you instead of the other way around.
3. Don’t Fall for the “Screw It” Effect
If you’ve ever struggled with addiction or taken on the challenge to abstain from a particular vice (television, social media, etc.), you are undoubtedly familiar with the ‘screw it’ effect.
For example, if you are trying to quit smoking and a moment of weakness causes you to have one cigarette with a friend, the next thought to enter your mind is “Screw it, I’ve already had one” and before you know it, you’re a pack and a half into the week and stuck in your habit once again.
Or, if you’ve ever been following a strict diet and tried to have “Just one” bite of a delicious homemade cookie, what follows is often the ravenous consumption of so many cookies that the Cookie Monster himself would blush…Because “Screw it.”
Or, an example that’s a bit more relevant to our conversation, if you’ve ever been hard at work and unwittingly encountered a distracting website or notification, the “Screw It Effect” sends you into a downwards spiral of distraction causing you to waste an entire afternoon in a vortex of click bait and hilarious gifs.
While I wish I could provide you with research backed tips and tricks to help you overcome this psychological proclivity–I can’t.
The truth is, defeating the “Screw It Effect,” begins and ends with self-awareness.
There’s nothing you can do to unclick the video that just stole 15 of your most productive minutes. But you can get refocused now.
You can’t undo the hour you just wasted skimming through your favorite bloggers archives. But you can acknowledge your mistake and take the requisite action to fix it.
4. Create a “Deep Work Zone”
Something about which I’ve written a lot in recent months is the importance of location based anchors.
In other words, the importance of rigging your local environments to serve your goals and facilitate higher levels of focus, productivity, and success.
And one of the most important locational anchors you can create is what I call a “Deep Work Zone.”
Your deep work zone is sacred. It’s an untouchable part of your home or office that is reserved exclusively for tapping into undistracted work on your most important tasks.
This is not where you take calls with prospective clients. It’s not where you brush up on the news or check social media or chat with your folks or answer emails.
It is where you do the hardest and most focus-intense work you have each week–and only that work.
By creating a space that is free of physical clutter and used exclusively for your most challenging work, you will train your brain to associate that particular corner of your home or office with deep work and deep work alone.
Your brain will think, “Ok…We’re here again. It’s time to get to work.”
I encourage you to couple this locational anchor with an auditory anchor (e.g. one specific song) to further increase the speed with which you can dive into deep work and lower the time it takes you to get into flow.
After using this space for a couple of weeks, you’ll notice a marginal improvement in your work. After a few months, you’ll be able to compress an entire day’s worth of work into a single morning. And after a year? Your “Deep Work Zone” will become a location of unstoppable creation and productivity.
5. Leverage Accountability
Finally, to achieve a distraction-free life and tap into unprecedented levels of productivity and focus, you must leverage accountability.
When the buck stops with you–when you are the only person to whom you are accountable–distraction is all but inevitable. There are too many distractions too carefully created to steal your attention and sabotage your efforts for you to handle them by yourself.
However, when you hold yourself radically accountable to someone you do not want to disappoint, saying “No” to distractions becomes easy.
If you tell a coach or mentor that you will not check Facebook, or scroll through a specific blog, or waste time on YouTube (unless these distractions are scheduled), it is much harder to give into the temptation–especially if you leverage website blockers and other software.
By having the right person in your corner, setting motivating deadlines, and leveraging their accountability to increase your motivation, everything becomes easier.
You’ll force yourself to tap into greater levels of productivity and focus and consciously eliminate or reduce distractions throughout your work day.
Accountability is your “secret weapon” to defeat distraction, reclaim your time, and live your perfect life.
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