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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Learn Effectively in the Age of Digital Distraction

How to Learn Effectively in the Age of Digital Distraction

One of the inevitabilities of modern life is that we are more accessible. The days when someone had to geographically find you first when they need to contact you urgently are long gone. Now, no matter where you are in the world, they can contact you via your mobile phone number, email address, or social media accounts. These cause what we call “digital distractions.”

In so many ways, this is a wonderful advancement of technology. Why would you not want to be available for your friends and family when they need you? And wouldn’t you want to know of an impending crisis at work as soon as it starts to happen?

Unfortunately, being available to everyone 24/7 can also be a huge drain on your ability to get on with the things you have identified as being important to you, such as learning and education.

In this fast-changing world, staying on top of the latest developments in your industry, being able to adopt new skills, and learning new technology need time, and time is one resource we all struggle to find more of.

These demands for our time from our friends, colleagues, bosses, and customers eat into our precious twenty-four hours each day and take a toll on our energy levels leaving us feeling exhausted at the end of the day—not the best condition to be in when you want to learn.

So, what can you do to minimize these digital distractions and increase your focus?

Below are some tips and tricks that have worked for me and have helped me to keep up with the latest developments in education, communication, and productivity while minimizing digital distractions.

1. Learn at Your Best Time of the Day

This is the starting point for anyone who wants to embark on a study program, whether a formal college course or an online course to learn a new skill. What do I mean by ‘your best time’?

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It is easy for us to say to ourselves, “tomorrow, I’m going to start learning Japanese”. We decide when we get home after work we will sit down for an hour and begin.

Unfortunately, most of us will find when we do get home at the end of the day, our willpower has diminished, and we just ‘don’t have the energy’ to start today. So, we say we will start tomorrow. And the cycle repeats.

What’s Happening?

Your willpower is letting you down. Studies have shown that our willpower has a limit and as the day goes by, we use up more and more of our willpower.

Making decisions about what to eat (and not eat for lunch) telling yourself you won’t have that extra cup of coffee in the afternoon, saying “no” to a friend who wants to have dinner tonight (you can’t because you are going to study Japanese)—all these things add up throughout the day, and they deplete your willpower.

Finally, when you do get home and the appointed hour for your Japanese study arrives, you just cannot do it. You’re ‘exhausted’, and you just want to finish watching this last episode of The Crown on Netflix. And the cycle again repeats.

To avoid this, understand the best time to do your learning is in the morning when you have the most reserves of willpower. At this time, you will find resisting all distractions much easier.

Whether you think you are a morning or a night person, the truth is your brain will always be at its best first thing in the morning.[1] It is when you are at your most creative, most focused, and have the highest reserves of willpower.

This does not mean you must wake up at 5 AM to do your studying. What it means is if you want to get the most out of your hour of learning, the best time to do it is soon after you wake up. So, if you wake up at 8:00 AM, try and do your studying between 8:30 AM and 9:30 AM.

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If you have to be at your workplace by 9:00 AM, consider using your commute time to study. You can always listen to podcasts, online courses, and the likes on your mobile phone. The key is to use the morning for the bulk of your study time.

2. Turn On “Do Not Disturb” When You Study

You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? It’s common sense. If you want to get the most out of your study time, you must reduce distractions. Full stop. And that means turning off your digital distractions.

I do my reading late at night. I like to wind down the day with thirty minutes or so of reading. I use the Kindle app on an iPad Mini and that iPad is dedicated to reading only. I have all notifications turned off, I have no social media on the device, and the only apps I have are apps associated with reading and my notes app, so I can grab quotes and ideas as I am reading.

I also use this iPad for learning. This means I can listen to an audio learning program and take notes simultaneously. Because all notifications are off, I don’t get disturbed and focus completely on what I am learning.

3. Change Your FOMO Mind

One societal issue in today’s world is FOMO—the Fear Of Missing Out—and that causes us to always feel the need to be ‘connected’. FOMO is one of the main causes of digital distractions. You must prevent this from creeping into your study time.

You can do this by checking your messages and email before you start your study period. You need to get it off your mind and not be worrying about what may be lurking inside your inbox. So, before you start, do an email and messages check. It will give you peace of mind knowing the world outside is not descending into chaos and everything will be okay for the next hour.

Note I did not say “do your email”—you only need to do a check. I know this is counter to many of the arguments about checking email and messages first thing in the morning, but the problem is if you do not do it, you will be distracted by worrying about what is in there.

Put your mind at rest and deal with it before you start. Nine times out of ten there will be no emergencies.

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“The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday” –– Bas Luhrmann

You need to be at peace with the world before you start an effective study period. Worrying about what may or may not be lurking inside your inbox will not give you that peace.

4. Tell Others That You Will Not Be Available

Seriously, you can do this. You do not have to be available 24/7, and everyone can wait an hour or so for you to get back to them.

I have tested this ad nauseam and never once has anyone ever complained because it took me an hour to get back to them—including my wife! The reality is, you are not as important as you think you are. Don’t be so arrogant.

When you tell people what you are doing and that you are not available, people will respect your time. This has been tested with clients, bosses, family members, and friends. No one has ever said to me “you must be available for my messages, calls, and emails every minute of the day” And if they ever did, I would be questioning why they are in my life at all. No one should ever have that much control over your life.

Imagine you had to go to the dentist for an emergency to take care of an unbearable toothache. As you are in the dentist’s chair with the suction tube and drill in your mouth, your most important client called. Would you answer the phone? Of course not—well at least I hope you wouldn’t.

Treat your study time the same way—no calls, messages, or anything else that will detract you from your purpose of learning.

5. Turn Your “Should Do” Into a “Must Do”

We all have things we “should do” and invariably, it’s our “should-dos” that never get done—“I should exercise”, “I should lose weight”, “I should clean out my closet”, “I should call my parents,” etc.

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All these “shoulds” pile up and never get done because they are not priorities. “Should-dos” have no urgency attached to them, and so they fall to the bottom of the pile of things we want to do.

If you want to free yourself from distractions so you can spend time learning, then your learning needs to become a “must do”—“I must study today”. When you change a “should” to a “must”, it becomes a priority. A “must-do” is non-negotiable—it is a red line.

The trick with this is to plan the day ahead. We all have things we need to do each day, but not all of those things are priorities. Many of them are things that we would ‘like to get done today’. Before you close out the day, give yourself a few minutes to look at your calendar and to-do list and flag one or two things you must do tomorrow.

Doing this the day before prepares your mind for the day ahead. You begin each day knowing exactly what you must do, and we are much more likely to focus our attention on those one or two items we must do. Make sure your learning is one of those you have assigned a flag to and make it happen.

A good way to do this is to use your calendar for your priorities and your to-do list for your non-priorities. When you use your calendar for these, you are allocating time for them. When you have allocated time, you reduce your excuses and they are much more likely to happen.

Key Takeaways

Remember to allocate your study time to the mornings. Your brain is at its best and you will find concentrating much easier. Second, turn off all notifications while you are in your study time. Don’t worry, the world is not going to end while you learn.

Tell your friends, colleagues, bosses, and clients that you are not available during your study time. And lastly, block time off on your calendar and make it a must, not a should.

If you have a hard time getting focused and avoiding digital distractions, remember these tips and you’ll notice improvement.

More Tips on How to Avoid Digital Distractions

Featured photo credit: Maxim Ilyahov via unsplash.com

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Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2020

15 Strategies for an Effective To-Do List

15 Strategies for an Effective To-Do List

One of the age-old productivity techniques around is the classic and effective to do list, and for good reason. It’s one of the most productive ways for you and everyone else to get anything done. Whether it’s a mental list or something that you are writing down, a to do list is an essential productivity tool.

At the same time, it is one of the most confusing productivity tools around. Many people discredit this for various reasons and don’t believe that a to do list is any good. But my argument is that maybe you and other people aren’t making an effective to do list, so here we will go over how to get one done right.

Why Bother With an Effective To-Do List?

You’ve Been Using Them Wrong

Before jumping into strategies to make an effective to do list, it’s worth knowing why you should bother making one. The first important point is that many people have been making to do lists all wrong.

Two of the most common mistakes are:

  • People use lists as a measurement of whether they are productive or not.
  • They put too many items on the list.

It’s understandable why you or other people do this, though. A to do list is a productivity tool, so it makes sense to pile on tasks. However, the brain doesn’t work that way. If you have a lot of tasks on your list, it feels like torture as the list never ends.

At first, it can feel nice that you always have something to do, but keep in mind that you only have so much time in a day. It’s important that you place more value in quality work rather than sheer quantity.

On that same note, if you are someone who has a tendency to seek validation, a to do list can be tough. There will be days where you won’t get everything done due to life events. This creates unnecessary pressure and sends you into a stress whirlwind.

It Helps You Stay Focused

When you build an effective to-do list, the main goal of these lists is to provide clarity and focus. If you’ve been doing them wrong, you may have noticed that you are focusing in on a task on your to do list and getting it done.

This may be overshadowed by the multiple items on your list, but you are focusing on a task during a given time. You really see this in action when you consider having a shorter to do list, though.

I understand that a to do list isn’t for every single person, but this focus is helpful to people when starting out. You’re still not certain about your goals or the path that you want to take. You may also struggle to determine the next step to work towards.

A to do list is a guide you can refer back to it whenever you need it. Furthermore, the techniques that I’ll be mentioning below will make to do lists more effective for you.

15 Strategies for an Effective To Do List

You’ll begin to see how powerful a to do list is when you consider the various strategies you can incorporate in one. This is your to do list, so pick from the strategies below to find what suits you. If you’re not certain, don’t be afraid to experiment and mishmash several combinations.

Remember that the road to success is one with many branching paths, so the methods you use are your choice.

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1. Break the List Into Two Parts

The first strategy is to break a list into two parts. These two parts are called dailies and to do’s.

Dailies are the everyday tasks that you want to develop more. For example, if you want to make a habit out of exercising in the morning, a daily task could be following a 15-minute workout routine or going for an hour-long walk.

Your to do’s are non-daily tasks that you need to be getting done at some point. Maybe you need to prepare a report at work or make a presentation. You can put that into your to do column.

This is an effective strategy because it saves all the clutter that most people gravitate towards. As mentioned before, people stuff their lists, and a lot of it is usually tasks they you would do anyway, like going grocery shopping or dropping the kids off at a friend’s place.

2. Put a Limit on Items

If you find breaking your list into two parts too much, I’ll suggest brevity to be a virtue when making these lists. You can set any number of items, but the key is that you do have a set limit in mind. Some people have no more than seven while others go as low as three. Do what makes you feel comfortable.

The idea behind this is to narrow in on the most important tasks that you need to accomplish that day. Of course, there are other things that you’ll be doing during the day, and that’s fine, but you want to prioritize the items that on your to do list before the day is done.

3. Use Checklists for Complex Tasks

If you’re already making narrow lists but are putting in tougher tasks, my suggestion is to break that task down. Whether it’s full-on steps you need to take or jotting down important details that need to be present is up to you.

Either way, this allows you to ensure that you’re getting everything done the proper way and that you’re not missing any key details or steps.

4. Tackle MITs First

MIT is the “most important task.” Another way to look at this is to tackle the largest and most intimidating task first[1]. Why you want to do this goes back to how our brain works.

You may feel compelled to do the easier tasks first before getting to the bigger task, but the problem is that these tasks—even the easy ones—drain your energy. Furthermore, if you have a really big task to complete, chances are that’s going to be on your mind over the course of the day. That means you’re spending more energy just thinking about it.

All of that wouldn’t be a problem if that big intimidating task was dealt with first thing in the morning.

5. Create a “Done” List

Another interesting approach to consider is to have a “done” list. This is a list of the tasks that you’ve completed from your to do list. Many people find it satisfying to merely cross an item off their list and be done with it, but depending on what you’re putting on those lists, a done list could be inspiring.

Imagine if you are someone who places above-average difficult tasks on your to do lists, activities that require an hour or two to complete properly. This can inspire you to do more if, after a day of working, you notice just how much you accomplished over the course of the day via this list.

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6. Make Your List Easy to Spot

From colorful paper to posting it in an obvious spot, you want your list to be in a place where you can spot it easily. Mind you, you don’t need to have this list in front of you all the time as it could create unnecessary stress. But setting it to one side is a nice idea—a glance to the side and you know exactly what needs to get done.

7. Add Gaming Elements to It

If pen and paper isn’t your thing when making to do lists, there are several apps that can guide you along as well. The beauty of to do list apps is that there is more room for creativity, and some of the developers incorporate games into them.

For example, Todoist has an achievement system where individuals earn badges as they complete more tasks. There’s also Bounty Tasker, which makes you feel like your tasks are side quests in a video game.

8. Give Yourself Deadlines

Work expands to fill time allotted.

It’s an old philosophy that still rings true with how we are productive. For example, say you’re assigned to write a report, and you’re given a week to do it. You’ll likely work on it steadily throughout the week. Or if you’re a procrastinator, you’ll put it off until the night before and finish it.

But what if you’re given that same task and only allotted an hour to complete it? You’ll likely get the report done, but you’ll prioritize the main, important points and highlight those rather than fill it with unnecessary fluff.

The whole point of this is that with your goals and the items on your to do list, you want to have deadlines. When it comes to to do lists, my suggestion is to give yourself a day to complete the tasks there. This is enough pressure and incentive for you to work hard on them.

9. Add Tasks When They’re Fresh

Another strategy is to assign yourself tasks even when you are working on something else. Keep in mind it’s not something you have to do right now, but this can help with people who are struggling to think about what to focus on next.

This is along the same lines as when you hear something interesting and you write it down. It’s a wise thing to do as it saves you the bother of having to dwell on that idea rather than focusing on the task at hand. It also saves you from having to recall what the task is if you’re the type to write up the next day’s to do list at the end of the day.

10. Be Comfortable With Revising Your To-Do List

Depending on your overall mindset, another good strategy is to look at your to do list and make changes to it. If you’re practicing the previous strategy, there may be a possibility that your to do list is getting lengthy and you’re setting unrealistic expectations that you can finish it all.

By giving yourself the opportunity to revise your to do list, your allowing yourself to spread out your tasks rather than have them clumped up. This helps your mindset as you’re not overwhelmed by the list.

11. Write Tasks, Not Goals

You should have separate lists for your tasks and your goals. The idea is to not put goals on your task list at all.

While tasks can help you lead to your goals, goals are larger desires and not something that you can achieve over the course of the day. For example, “learn to speak French” is a goal; however, you can break that into a task by saying “read French content for 15 minutes” or “watch a movie in French.”

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This also extends to objectives, too. You can see these as milestones. Going back to the example of speaking French, an objective can be, “discuss my favorite foods with someone in French.” It’s the desired outcome that you’re looking for from your practice.

12. Keep To Do Lists Brief

Here, brief means scannable in that you can quickly look over at the list and know what needs to get done. How you can do this is by focusing on the keywords of specific tasks and not dragging them out. For example, say your garage is a mess and you want to clean it up. Instead of writing a lengthy sentence, keep it short and write something like “clean garage for 30 min.” or simply “clean garage.”

With this strategy, you’re spending less time writing the task down when making the to do list. Furthermore, you’re relying on trigger words to get your mind to recall specific details for that task.

13. Have Multiple Lists

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to have separate lists for various things, like having a separate list for goals, objectives, daily tasks, and to do’s. Another way you can look at it is to have a system where you are consulting from three lists.

These lists are:

A Master List

This is where any of your long-term goals are, things like moving to a new house, getting out of debt, or building a business. These are things that will take a year or more to accomplish.

A Weekly Project List

These are things that you want to accomplish by the end of the week. These are things that will move the needle slowly towards some of the items on your master list. From the previous example, these could be doing research on getting a business loan, house hunting, or setting up a savings account.

A High-Impact List

Lastly, these are tasks that need to be accomplished today. Whether they are related to the previous two lists or not doesn’t matter. This is where high priority tasks are placed. Examples can be calling specific people or working on a project or a report that’s due soon.

By having these lists in place, you’ll be referring often to the weekly project list and the high-impact list and determining whether a weekly task should be moved to that list.

As you do that, you’ll begin to notice how much your daily life has an impact on those goals that are written on that master list. That can be inspiring since what you are doing is actively bringing you closer to your goals.

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14. Don’t Ramp up Difficulty Until You’re Ready

Some of the strategies mentioned can seem easy on the surface, but they require a lot of mental fortitude. Motivation is an unusual thing, and our brains are wired to process a certain way. If you’re looking for genuine change and something that sticks, the best principle is to keep things simple and easy at first.

It may be a drag, but you don’t often realize how those baby steps can play a crucial role in you being able to start running and chasing your dreams. Don’t be ashamed if you have to start off with simple tasks for yourself. Even going back to daily tasks that you do anyway like showering, doing the laundry or shopping for food is a good way to start.

Putting those items on the list at first makes you feel like you’ve had a productive day. From there, you can challenge yourself with more difficult tasks. Incorporate an exercise routine or spend a half-hour on a task that means something to you.

The idea is to ease yourself into a routine so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

15. Measure Your Time

The last strategy that can help you is to measure your time. How long does it take you to finish a specific task? You don’t need to go for specifics, but make a point of timing yourself over the course of a week and get the average time spent on that task.

Why is this important? This information can be broken down in two ways.

The first way is to use it as a marker to boost efficiency. Depending on the task, you can find new ways to achieve the same results in a shorter time.

It also allows you to know what you can do in a given day. If you know that it takes you an hour or so to go through your entire morning routine, you’ll be more conscious about how you move through that routine.

Furthermore, if you know what tasks you’ll be doing the next day, you can better manage your time since you know roughly how much time it’ll take to get everything done.

Final Thoughts

Building an effective to do list is not as easy as it seems. There are all kinds of unique strategies to try out, some more challenging that others. However, if you are motivated to use this productivity tool to make your life easier, then it will get easier. All that you need to do is keep putting effort and experiment and reevaluate when necessary. So get started with your to do lists today.

More Tips on Using an Effective To Do List

Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews Digital Content Production via unsplash.com

Reference

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