There’s no doubt that distractions are a daily fact of life.
Distractions are around us constantly, vying for our attention, stopping us from getting stuff done.
But what exactly is a distraction? Are distractions always bad? And what’s the best way to deal with distractions?
Read on to find out more.
What is a distraction?
A distraction is anything that takes us away from what’s important right now.
Distractions turn our attention away from what’s in front of us and what we should be doing, to something else.
Distractions stop us from what we want to do, or what we need to do.
To me distractions are different from interruptions.
Interruptions are external and in almost all cases caused by another person – things like your boss calling you on the phone, the doorbell ringing, or your child asking for help with their homework.
And while there are some things we can do to minimize interruptions (for example letting people know when we are and aren’t available) the reality is, we can’t control other people’s actions.
On the other hand, distractions are all about where our attention is. And we can control where we put our attention.
In fact, if we frequently experience interruptions during our day it’s more important than ever that we control our attention when we do have that precious uninterrupted time.
What’s the problem with distractions?
Distractions make it difficult to be intentional. They stop us getting things done – or they make things take so much longer than they should.
Essentially, distractions rob us of our time – time for ourselves, and time with our loved ones.
Often they leave us feeling discontent and frustrated.
When you can tune out distractions and focus on what’s in front of you, you make progress.
Oftentimes you can get into a state of flow (also known as ‘the zone’) where you are fully immersed in what you are doing.
When you overcome distractions and get in the flow you feel in control, productive and accomplished. It feels amazing.
Are distractions always bad?
I don’t believe distractions are 100% always a bad thing.
If you pay attention to when and why you are being distracted you can learn more about yourself, and develop strategies to better utilize your time and energy.
The key is to notice – and be honest with yourself.
Are you distracted because you are bored?
Sometimes you just need to acknowledge it. Yep, I’m bored. This task isn’t really doing it for me. And then accept that the sooner you get it done, the sooner you can move on to something else.
Or is it because you are procrastinating or resisting the task in some way?
Why are you resisting it? Do you need more support? Or are you letting perfectionist tendencies stop you from getting started?
If so, take a look at how you can ditch perfectionism.
Is the distraction a habit – something you do automatically without thinking?
Or do you genuinely need to switch gears? Perhaps you are distracted because you’re tired, or your brain feels foggy.
In which case ask yourself, are you truly giving yourself time for breaks, allowing your body and your mind to refresh?
Sometimes you really do need to tune off or tune out for 5 minutes.
You may need to drink some water. Or get up and move around. Perhaps you need to gaze out the window and zone out for a few minutes.
Try to notice patterns.
Are there certain times of the day that you feel more distracted? Can you change your schedule to account for this? Or at least try to be refreshed and hydrated during this time.
Simple ways to deal with distractions
It’s fair to say one of the biggest distractions these days is technology.
Whether it’s email, games, social media, breaking news, streaming services, or online shopping, technology makes it oh-so-easy to become distracted.
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology! I love how it opens up the world to us, and the sheer instant convenience of it. But I’ve realised it’s so easy to have too much of a good thing.
However there are ways to use technology in a way that benefits you, not distracts you.
1. Make it inconvenient instead of easy
With so many enticing distractions just a click away, the key to resisting their distractions is to set up barriers.
The more steps you have to go through to access your technology, the easier it will be to resist.
When distraction is hard to access, you don’t have to worry about willpower. You can channel your energy into making time instead of wasting itKnapp and Zeratsky, Make Time: How To Focus on What Matters Everyday
Try these tips for dealing with digital distractions:
(i) Turn off notifications
Or at least make your notifications silent. All those little pings can be very distracting.
(ii) Keep your phone face-down
Better still, put your phone out of reach.
If it’s important that you answer calls, put the phone further than arm’s reach away.
You can still get up and answer it, but you’ll be less tempted to idly pick it up.
(iii) Change the screensaver or wallpaper on your phone
If you find yourself picking up and checking your phone from boredom or habit, try creating a little reminder on your screensaver or wallpaper to make you pause.
At the moment I have wallpaper on my phone that says ‘Is it important right now?’
(iv) Close down excess windows/tabs on your laptop or pc
Instead of keeping lots of tabs open, utilize bookmarks or workspace software.
Workona is a favourite of mine, but I have to admit I still have a bad habit of keeping too many windows open (I’m working on it!)
(v) Use distraction blocker apps or software
Also known as focus apps, these allow you to block websites and/or apps determined by you and set a schedule and/or a timer.
The best ones should be annoying to disable, and provide you with encouragement to succeed.
There are many to choose from – a few examples include:
- Freedom – blocks distractions on all your devices at once
- Serene – for planning and following through on deep focus sessions
- Cold Turkey Blocker – for scheduled system-wide blocking
- LeechBlock – free browser-based website blocking
- RescueTime – time tracking with built-in website blocking
- Forest – for motivating you to put your phone down
- SelfControl – a free hardcore option for Mac users
2. Allocate time for fun distractions
Ask yourself which distractions you truly enjoy.
Maybe it’s scrolling through your social media feeds, watching the latest series on Netflix, or singing along to music on the radio?
Then be intentional.
Set a limit and allocate time in your day for your favourite distractions. Stick to the limit and enjoy them without guilt.
3. Capture your thoughts
I know how easy it is to get distracted when something pops into your head – something you think needs to be dealt with right there and then.
Whether it’s a thought, a question, or a must-remember, the temptation is to jump on it and deal with it immediately for fear that you might forget to do it later (or because it’s more fun than what you’re doing right now).
A simple way to overcome this is to write these thoughts or ideas down. That way you can get them out of your head to get back to later – so there’s no need to worry about anything being forgotten.
Take a look at this video by Kimberly Bui, where she explains how keeping a distraction journal completely revolutionized how she used her time, helping her to become so much more productive.
Whether you use a specific distraction journal, or just your regular planner or notebook, keep it close at hand to jot down when and why you are distracted, as well as the thoughts/must-dos etc that are distracting you.
Remember, you don’t have to deal with every thought you have straight away – park it and revisit it later.
There’s no need to let distractions stop you from feeling accomplished.
Once you have a few effective strategies to help you deal with distractions you’ll find yourself using your time so much more effectively.
You’ll find yourself looking back on your day feeling satisfied and accomplished.