How to Transform Distraction into Achievement
Distraction is natural. Achievement is intentional.
My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Goodwin, wrote on my report card. “Danny has to know everything that’s going on around him.” Distraction has been my saboteur for a long time. If you concentrate on one thing, what delights might you miss?
The world is filled with a thousand pleasant nothings. In reality they are dreadful distractions that dilute achievement.
How to Transform Distraction into Achievement:
#1. Decide what’s important.
You must know what’s important to live meaningfully. Don’t let others decide what’s important for you.
People who don’t know what’s important chase distraction.
Focus begins with:
- Knowing your mission. Choose how to show up based on your mission, not urgencies. Everyone who chases urgencies neglects meaningful work.
- Knowing your strengths. You do one or two things well. Spend as much time as possible doing those things.
- Knowing the behaviors that contribute to achievement.
- Knowing your daily goals. Write down one or two things you must accomplish today. No more.
#2. Eliminate options.
Don’t put ice cream in the freezer if you’re trying to lose weight.
Eliminate temptations and distractions if you want to focus. Tim Ferriss said, “What you don’t do determines what you can do.”
Choose things to ignore if you want to create focus.
I had to change the homepage on my browser. My new computer was set to go to a Microsoft page that looked like this:
I can’t resist clickbait! I click it and 15 minutes later, I forget what I’m searching for in the first place. The age of distraction is created by people who compete for your attention. They serve themselves, not you.
I changed my browser’s homepage to an uncluttered page. I’m not endorsing Google. But the page isn’t a distraction.
What suggestions do you have for distraction addicts?
More to consider:
20 Useful Ways to Create Focus Today – Leadership Freak20 Useful Ways to Create Focus Today
Feel free to drop me a note if you’re considering coaching.
Committing to single handling tasks will help?
Thanks Nagaranjan. We over-estimate our ability to get things done. That drives me to distraction.
Such a timely thing, I started pratically, by reviewing at the start of each day my calendar and then what is really important and what products I need to deliver and what my team needs to deliver to me. I help them in their organization and productivity by being clear. I have removed most notifications from my computer and phone. One of the largest ones is learning to use screentime and the new focus time to ensure during certain time frames only specific people can reach me or notify me. It’s all a work in progress.
Thanks for sharing your journey. Perhaps the most important aspect of overcoming distraction is the realization that it’s a daily thing. I’m surprised at the amount of discipline it takes to maintain focus.
Your insight about starting the day by deciding what’s important is huge. I wish you well.
Single largest distraction at my desk was email notifications. Every time that envelope dinged in the corner, I had to see what was up; it was an uncontrollable addition. While it was great for ‘being on top of things’ and providing quick responses, it was not so great for getting stuff done… Scheduling email breaks (or really just limiting the inbox checks to occur in between tasks) was a game changing distraction remover.
Thanks Lance. You remind me that it’s not complicated to find focus, even though it takes discipline. Simply turning off a ‘ding’ is a huge help. I solved the ‘ding’ problem by closing email until I’m ready to deal with it.
I like cutting off my email and setting a timer per task. For the next hour, I am going to work on this project and nothing else…when buzzer goes off, I put that project away.
I like to keep a notepad to jot down items about life outside of work that come to mind during the day. Knowing I’ve got them written down allows me to return to the task at hand.
I also don’t read email while I’m in meetings. I need to focus on the subject or else I should not have attended the meeting as I won’t glean what I need to.
Great post with wide-spread application!
It was 1994, twenty years into my career, before I had my first desktop computer in my office. That’s when the battle against distraction and “urgent vs. important” really began for me with email. I learned to check email only three times a day, unless given a heads-up by phone or in person to expect something important. I used a “handle it only once” procedure with email. I either responded to it and acted upon it, forwarded it if it needed to be acted on by someone else, or disregarded and deleted it. I also tried to inflict as little email as possible on others. Our agency intranet back then didn’t allow easy internet access, so that was another distraction I had to tame a few years later, but once again struggle with to some extent now that I am retired. Excessive distractions can rob me of valuable personal time (engaging in favorite leisure activities I seldom took enough time for during my working years) now just like valuable work time back then. Either way, distractions divert us from higher and better use of our time. A timely message, at any time!
This subject is an enormous issue for me. I currently struggle with time management. I end up working on a ton of different things each day but not finishing many. I am learning alot from reading everyone’s responses as well. Thanks so much for the discussion.
Some things that worked for me in the past:
– leave all social media: remove the apps from the phone, log off, or even delete the accounts
– alternatively: dedicate a device for social media, and only use it in a specific physical location + specific time (like weekend evenings, only at the fireplace when my wife is in the kitchen). That’s instead of having it available and pulling on my on my phone/watch/etc. …
– a new rule: when working: email, Slack, web browsers, all communication apps are first closed, so that I can focus. And yes, even put the phone on ‘Fly mode’ to cut phone from the network (includes phones and texts). In my life there are no emergencies that can’t wait an hour (until I finish my focused work session)
– “Do not enter” stop sign at my door at home when I’m working. With working from home that has been in use more last year. Though I admit – it has also been ignored more recently by my family, which means I need to adjust again …
– go hide in a place where people can’t find you: conference room, coffee shop, library, a park. and work from there
– go for a walk with no phone. take it slow – try something short like leaving the house without phone for 5 min. the anxiety at the beginning is real, so build up to it …
– sleep more (8+ or 9hrs): leaves less time for distractions in the day + more energy to recognize it when it happens
– zone your day: book focused performance/work zones first, then communication zone (1 or 2 only), and don’t forget about “dreaming zones” (un-rushed time to relax your mind, dream, come up with ideas for growth and improvement).
Books that helped me: “5 choices”, “12 week year”
Training that helped me: “Insane Productivity” from Darren Hardy, and much of his other training.
Movies: “Social Dillema”
I love this! Avoiding distraction is a skill and requires developing good habits to avoid them. I have a distraction free web page on one of my sites that also serves as the default for my browser.
A boss once asked me how I handled after hours emails since he was continually bombarded by them. I told him that I never installed the email service on my phone and if something was truly important, I expect a phone call.
He was shocked and asked, “How many calls do you get?” I told him very, very few and the ones I did get were important and warranted.
It’s easy to go off on a tangent and that makes it equally important to choose the means by which “more important” gets in your way.
For me, it’s organization and hiding things. I often have multiple tabs open on my browser, and seeing how many unread emails I have is definitely a distraction. I put the tabs in folders so that I can focus on that task then close it out.