Five ways I fight distractions. And squirrels.

distractionsI have set a new goal of writing for an hour every day. Normally I write for 0 hours every day, so this is quite a leap. The problem is when I sit down to write suddenly my mind can focus on anything but writing.

I should check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, MySpace, Google Buzz.

What is playing on Pandora?

I need to update all of my apps.

I need another Diet Coke.

I bet I could write if I moved to the sunroom, the deck, the living room, Starbucks.

I need a vanilla chai.

He has a brand new MacAir, I wonder what he does for a living?

What’s the weather?

What was I supposed to be doing? Oh, that’s right, writing for an hour. Well I’ve killed the hour so that should count for something.

The challenge is that it isn’t just writing, almost anything that requires concentration sends me off on a little odyssey of randomness. StumbleUpon is based on the way my mind works. Email, smart phones and ubiquitous wi-fi are the bane of my existence. I can fill hours of what appears to be work with nothing of substance. My only takeaways at the end of the day can be the gross domestic product of Argentina, the lifetime OBP for Dusty Baker and a YouTube video of roller-blading dachshunds. Distraction is my Achilles heel.

Paul writes the antidote to distraction in 1 Corinthians 9

1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV) Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable..

I hate that phrase “self-control”, but at the end of the day that is the difference between distracted surfing and disciplined productivity. So here are my five (oft violated) tips for self-controlled focus:

  1. If something is to get done it has to be scheduled. I never “get around” to anything worthwhile. I have to put it on the calendar and then do it when I said I would do it. My hour of writing is now on my schedule  every morning.
  2. A task needs a home. When I sit in that chair, with that table for my Diet Coke and that computer then I know it is time to do that activity. That is why I do my morning devotions in the same place every day I’m not on the road. Variety is my cocaine.
  3. I have to assign blocks of time that I cannot get up, look at email, glance at Twitter or refill my glass. “Ok Geoff, you can go get a refill at 10:00. You cannot get up for any reason until then.” I have to be stricter than the meanest teacher I ever had.
  4. There has to be a daily finish line. Whether it is a time frame, a number of words written or the completion of the task, I have to have a point when I know I am done.
  5. I have to have a deadline. I am unable to function if I don’t have a “the world will end if it isn’t complete by” date. I recently asked for a writing deadline and they gave me two choices. That’s not a deadline, that’s a buffet. Lie to me, but tell me the due or die date.

I admire the Getting Things Done people who have a system, stick to the system and get more done before 9:00 a.m. than the rest of us accomplish in a week, but I’m not that guy. The best I can do is beat back the distraction monster and fight my way through the digital jungle. How about you, do you struggle with focus? How do you win the battle?

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4 Responses to “Five ways I fight distractions. And squirrels.”

  1. Mike July 11, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    Timely post Geoff. Your article was MY distraction :) But now I’m going back to work! :)

  2. Ross July 11, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    We may be related…great post!

  3. Derek Sisterhen July 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Great post, Geoff! I can very much relate to the susceptibility of distraction and the challenge of being disciplined. I’m working on a writing project currently and I need to take numbers 1 and 4 (calendaring and daily finish lines) to heart. So much power in reserving time and setting small, achievable milestones – I love me a good sense of accomplishment!

    Thanks for writing!

  4. Keith July 13, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    Thanks. Great article and I think we all struggle with self-control and focus. But, I can’t get anything done until I find the squirrels in your post :)