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Last Updated on November 8, 2021

How to Multitask Successfully to 10X Your Productivity

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How to Multitask Successfully to 10X Your Productivity

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multitasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multitasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time.

Spoiler alert: multitasking may not be the answer.

Is it Humanly Possible To Multitask?

Multitasking isn’t something a human being is or should be able to do as we have a very limited amount of resources provided to us by our brains and it is on us to use them where they are needed the most. However, if you ask me if multitasking is possible, I would tell you, “Yes it is”, but not in the general sense of the word.

For me, multitasking is taking care of different tasks systematically rather than simultaneously. For example, if I were presented with 4 different projects, I would first try to assess which one of them am I the most comfortable doing. Next, you need to consider the impact the project will make on your work life and if it’s something that can be adjusted into your work batches. So yes, human beings can possess the ability to multitask but only if they apply it in the right sense.

Is Multitasking a Myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your Brain on Multitasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multitasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

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Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Is Multitasking Failing You?

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’s why:

Multitasking Wastes Your Time

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

Multitasking Makes You Dumber

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

Multitasking Is an Emotional Response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

Multitasking Will Wear You Out

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

Can You Really Successfully Multitask?

Although multitasking might be bad for your productivity, there is a secondary definition the word holds that can very well be of use in your daily life. In this definition, multitasking does not mean working on multiple tasks at the same time but rather,

“managing the many tasks you have at hand in an effective manner.”

This is the secret behind successful multitasking, the process of prioritizing important tasks based on your comfort to accomplish them. Setting up a to-do list is easy if all you’re doing is listing down what needs to be done. However, it is just as important to know what needs to be done when, and why you should be doing one task before the other. This will not only increase your productivity but also allow you to multitask effectively.

In the words of the renowned Gary Keller,

“Extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous.”

Change Your Existing Multitasking Habit

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

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In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously Change Gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage Multiple Tasks Without Multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set Aside Distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take Care of Yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Make Technology Your Ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

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Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

Adapt the Proper Multitasking Management Techniques

There is a very fine line between appropriate multitasking and one that impairs your productivity. These simple tips can help you steer clear of the harmful effects of overburdening yourself without proper productivity management.

1. Adjust Your Expectations

Be realistic with your goals. When you sit down and start working on something, you need to set a few goals and work towards them.

I say this from personal experience, in the beginning, getting a lot of projects might sound like you’re on your way to success. However, it rarely goes that way because being too busy taking on new projects, you end up burdening yourself with more than what you can handle. And in the end, nothing gets achieved. So when you are setting up a goal, be SMART. Make sure it’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

2. Choose Wisely

Now that you have decided to take your pick from the large number of projects you were being offered, it is time to make your choice on which one you can take on. This depends entirely on your capabilities and what you think you excel at the most.

Choose things you can manage easily and make sure you are able to see them through. And if there is something left that needs to be done, you can outsource them.

3. Outsource

As you grow, so will the list of tasks that you would need to manage but taking on everything by yourself was never an option. As the author of The One Thing sums it up,

“Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business.”

Just doing a lot on your own doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive. Rather than that, it would affect the efficiency of your work and might lead to an undesirable result for your business. This is why outsourcing the remainder of your tasks is always a good idea. Not only will you be getting your tasks done, but you will also be helping someone else out with making a living.

4. List Management

Keep active track of your tasks in a tangible way, where you can be reminded of everything that has been going on, or is about to go down.

At Lifehack, we use project management software Basecamp to keep track of all our tasks in Projects and To-Do Lists, where different tasks can be delegated to different team members and be tracked while they are being worked on.

    Having a singular platform to manage all my business tasks alongside deadlines, revisions and priorities allows our team to get a sense of direction.

    5. Batching

    Now that we have a list going on for all of our tasks, why not create batches of similar tasks that would require similar resources to boost your team’s productivity?

    Batching is a wonderful way of managing multiple tasks at the same time and it allows you to increase output and improve human resource productivity. When you get started with batching, take it slow, get into the feel, and find out what works the best for you.

    6. Interruption Management

    Interruptions are productivity’s worst enemy. If you go to the very roots of productivity, there lies paying attention to the task at hand and devoting your complete focus to accomplish the task. But with constant interruptions, you can say goodbye to getting anything done on time. This is especially in the case of growing businesses as their workload increases every passing day.

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    Avoid distractions as not only does this break down the tempo of the team but also takes their focus away from the task at hand. Similarly, set boundaries with your colleagues or people you work around by ensuring they know when you will be available and when you’d rather not be disturbed.

    7. Prepare

    The most important part of making an amazing meal is its prep. Before you get started with the actual cooking, you would need to prepare for what is to come.

    The same is the case with multitasking; to improve your multitasking skills, make sure you have the resources and tools prepared that are required to undertake the daily agenda. This will increase the efficiency of your work, and minimize the interruptions that may arise due to your search for something you need to get the job done.

    8. Take A Break

    When you are too caught up in your work, it’s very easy for it to take over your lives without you even realizing it. However, it is very important to take time off of work and just relax as it will open up your mind for inspiration and newfound motivation allowing you to clear your mind and refocus on the tasks at hand.

    This is why it’s important to schedule downtime. Again, this is not common multitasking advice, but for those of us that want to hack life, we understand and appreciate a holistic approach to productivity.

    A Practical Multitasking At Work Example

    To make it easier to understand, let us look at a simple work case example about how to multitask. Imagine you run a marketing agency that has recently gotten recognition and is on the verge of expansion.

    As the owner, you would now be responsible for a lot of new tasks and your workload will be multiplied. This requires you to employ effective multitasking, and to do that, identify the tasks that will impact your expansion the most and focus on them first. The remaining tasks can either be done based on a priority order or can be delegated or outsourced to a 3rd party service provider.

    This is the perfect way to employ multitasking in a work environment as it does not affect productivity while systematically dealing with your responsibilities as well.

    Bonus: How Do You Multitask Thinking?

    Taking on multiple tasks at the same time might be counterproductive, however, thinking about multiple things at the same time is an entirely different story.

    People in businesses have a number of tasks lined up that they need to address, and sometimes when performing one of them, thoughts about another one would pop in their head. Now, a multitasker would quickly switch tasks and move towards the one with whom he just had the breakthrough, however, I was no multitasker.

    I would stick to my current task but would keep a journal with me, in which I would note down everything that just popped in my head. This would allow me to get tasks that take precedence done on time while getting resources prepared for the ones to come. This is why it is suggested to multitask thinking. Do not ignore the gems of information your mind provides you with, but do be patient with them.

    Bottom Line

    Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

    Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

    If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss these tips:

    Featured photo credit: Javier Quesada via unsplash.com

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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on November 29, 2021

    How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

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    How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

    From modern technology to interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers, distractions are practically unavoidable. This makes it very hard to focus, especially for a sustained period of time on a specific task. Becoming indistractable, then, is an important skill to learn if we want to be truly productive.

    Distractions aren’t going to decrease any time soon with advances in technology. Therefore, there is no better time than now to learn the best strategies to help you defeat distractions head on. Remember, many distractions may be out of your control, but you can learn to take charge of whether or not they take control of you.

    In this article, you’ll learn not only why distractions are so destructive, but also why they exist in the first place, and a powerful technique that can help you get rid of them for good.

    What Is a Distraction?

    A distraction is anything that draws attention away from what you’re doing at a given moment. Examples include looking at your phone each time a notification pops up, chatting with people who stop by your office space while you’re working, or checking social media or emails while trying to finish a big project.

    Distractions can cause problems for more than just a few seconds. When you switch your attention, you create attention residue, which can linger for an extended amount of time, getting in the way of your focus.

    If you really want to become indistractable, you’ll need to overcome each distraction that steps in your path.

    Traction: The Opposite of Distraction

    We’ve come to the conclusion that distractions are bad, and we don’t want them interfering with what we need to get done. What we want to achieve is the opposite: traction. Now, there aren’t any official antonym for distraction. However, I propose it so as by definition traction is any action that moves us towards what we really want.

    Traction is an action that you fully engage in with intent—following through with what you say you will do.

      How To Tell If You’re Distracted

      Most people find it quite common to be distracted. The bustle of everyday life, heightened by social media and other means of escapism into a reality that’s not ours, has offered everyone things to pass their time with.

      Today, being distracted leads to wasting a significant amount of time during the day. Yet, it is not addressed as seriously as it should be. If you can spot the signs of distraction, then you can tackle the issue in time and live the life you want to.

      “Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.”
      [1]

      We have become so used to being distracted that we hardly see it as a bad thing anymore. Distraction can look different in various kinds of people. However, if you’re looking to become indistractable then here are signs to look out for to check if you’re becoming distracted so you can address the issue in time.

      • You find yourself wanting to check your phone frequently: Checking your phone often or feeling the need to constantly be active on social media during work hours or when you’re doing a task is one of the biggest signs of distraction.
      • You look at an object for a long time unable to figure out what to do with it: Although you have something to do, and the materials to do it with, you find it hard to figure out how to go about the task
      • The thing you’re working on feels so boring you want to do something fun: This stems from dissatisfaction with the work you’re doing. This dissatisfaction leads to you feeling bored with your task and seeking external comfort in something ‘fun’.
      • When you’re doing something mundane, you’re thinking about doing the things you like: Constantly thinking about things you like is what most people do when they cannot keep traction with the work in front of them. This usually happens when they are thinking about activities they look forward to once the task is over.
      • Audio-visual stimuli around you make it hard to focus on the task at hand: Although you’re working on the task, every voice or passing visual catches your attention. This may cause you to forget about work and listen in on a nearby conversation instead.

      The Reasons for Distraction

      When we talk about distractions, we’re talking about human behavior and reactions to the distractions themselves. And, all human behavior is marked by external or internal triggers.

      External Triggers

      External triggers

      are cues that we take from our environment that tell us what to do, such as pings from our phone or computer that prompt us to look at whatever the alert is announcing: an Instagram update, an email, a text from an old friend. These external triggers compete for our attention with whatever task we’re ultimately trying to focus on. Sometimes, the mere presence of an object itself, such as having your phone nearby, can prompt you to give it attention.

      Internal Triggers

      There are also internal triggers, which are simply cues that come from within, such as hunger, anxiety about an upcoming event, or feeling cold.

      All human behavior is prompted by external or internal triggers; therefore, traction and distraction both originate from the same source.

      How to Overcome Distraction and Become Indistractable

      Distractions can easily take over your life, but below I outline 4 simple tactics to take back your control and become indistractable. This concept I am sharing with you now draws from my book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

      1. Master Internal Triggers

      To overcome distractions and slip into deep work, you first need to understand your root cause of distraction. Humans have a natural tendency to want to escape discomfort. Even at times where we are going after pleasure and positive events, our drive often revolves around freeing ourselves from the discomfort of wanting.

      In truth, we will turn to social media, emails, video games, and Netflix not necessarily for the pleasure that they provide, but because of how they free us from psychological discomfort within. While it provides temporary relief, it is an unhealthy way to deal with your life. Even though you can’t control all outside situations and occurrences, you can control how you react to those circumstances.

      Various studies show that when humans don’t give into an urge, craving or impulse, it can trigger rumination and make the desire grow even stronger. So, when you eventually give in, your reward is increased, which can turn quickly into an undesired habit.

      Identify the Feeling or Thought Behind Your Urge

      When you find yourself wanting to give into your distraction, stop and become familiar with the internal trigger. Are you feeling anxious, overtired, or maybe you’re underprepared for the task at hand?

      Write Your Feelings Down

      Using a log and writing down the time of day and what you were doing, along with the feeling that accompanies it. Doing so will help you link your own behaviors with your internal triggers, which will help you better notice the thoughts and feelings that precede certain behaviors and better manage them.

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      Get Curious and Explore Your Feelings and Sensations

      Have a sense of curiosity towards your feelings. Notice if you have butterflies in your stomach, or a tightening in your muscles.

      2. Make Time for Traction

      Planning is critical to beating distractions, because if you don’t plan your day, surely someone else will! When you’re not clear on how you want to deal with your time and attention, anything and everything becomes a potential distraction.

      First, you need to turn your values into time. Of course, many of us want to spend more time with things that matter most to us: our family, friends and hobbies. But, we often fail to do so because we don’t make time for them in our day.

      So, you must acquire the attributes and values of the person you want to become.

      Examples might include becoming a contributing member of a team, spending quality time with your children, jumping into continuing education, becoming physically fit, or giving back to your community. Many of us wish to subscribe to these values, but without making the time to take actions to live them out, they’re simply empty aspirations.

      Timebox Your Schedule

      Timeboxing is, in my opinion, the most effective way to ensure time for your values. Timeboxing is the process of deciding what you’re going to do and exactly when you’re going to do it, helping you become indistractable.

      You simply create a daily calendar template for how to spend your time, so that you have no white space in your day. It isn’t important what you have planned to do, as long as you stick to it. If you feel a need to scroll through social media, just make sure you have planned appropriately for it.

      Be sure to include 15 minutes per week to reflect and refine your calendar, improving it week by week. You can ask yourself: When did I do what I said I would do, and when did I get distracted?

      At times where you became distracted, note what triggered it and come up with a strategy to use the next time the distraction or urge arises. Also ask: Are there changes I can make to my calendar that will give me the time I need to better express my values?

      Synch Your Schedule With Others

      Once your ideal week has been planned, be sure to notify others of importance in your life. Make a clear intention to stick with your plans and involve those who matter most. This could be related to sharing household responsibilities, alerting your boss to your timeline intentions at work, or even scheduling a date with your partner.

      3. Combat External Technical Triggers

      Tech companies are adept at using external triggers to hack into our attention. There are countless ways they do so, but our smartphone use is fueled by many of these triggers.

      Research shows that ignoring a call or message can be just as distracting as responding to one! If used properly, though, you can take control and rely on these external triggers to remind you to follow through with what you planned.

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      To do so, simply ask whether the external trigger is serving you, or if you are serving it. If the trigger leads you to traction, keep it; if it leads you to distraction, get rid of it. A few things to consider:

      1. Remove any and all apps you no longer need.
      2. Remove any apps that you enjoy, but you can use on your computer instead.
      3. Reduce the clutter on your home screen by rearranging the apps on your phone.
      4. Remove notification settings for each app that you don’t need updates on (social media, etc.).

      4. Make a Pact to Prevent Distractions

      Forethought is the antidote to impulsivity and key to becoming indistractable. Therefore, it’s useful to pre-commit to something in order to overcome distraction.

      We cement these decisions far in advance of any temptations and distractions that may come our way. This should only be undertaken after you have followed the other three steps and learned to manage internal triggers, make time for traction, and reduce external triggers.

      Here are the three types of pacts:

      Effort Pact

      This is a kind of pre-commitment that requires you to increase the amount of effort towards something you would rather not do. Increasing your effort forces you make the decision as to whether the distraction is really worth it or not. Some great apps that can help you with this include SelfControl, Forest, and Freedom.

      Price Pact

      This pact puts money on the line, where you get to keep your money if you follow through with your intended behavior, and if you get distracted, you lose your funds.

      I committed to a price pact when finishing the first draft of my book, promising an accountability partner $10,000 if I failed to finish my draft by the set deadline. This was an incentive for me to finish writing my book and keep my money.

      Identity Pact

      This is the method of using your self-image to impact your behavior and become indistractable. By deciding on and undertaking a new identity, you will empower yourself to make decisions based on who you believe you are. Think about vegetarians—they do not have to expend much willpower to avoid eating meat because they have committed to that as part of their identity.

      To become a person who is indistractable, stop telling yourself you are a person with a “short attention span” or an “addictive personality.” Rather, tell yourself, “I am indistractable.” If you say to yourself that you are easily distracted, it instantly becomes a truth. Yet, if you commit to believing that you are indistractable, you will immediately begin to implement these strategies, which will empower you to conquer any distraction that comes your way.

      Easy to Use Tools That Help You Stay Focused

      Technology doesn’t have to be the enemy if you’re looking to become more focused and avoid distractions. Some anti-distraction tools and apps help keep you focused by blocking out possible causes for distraction.

      You might be the sort of person who faces distraction at work, or you just can’t make yourself sit down at your desk and get to work, but there’s always hope. Here are some of the best tools that remove distractions and bring out your best potential.

      1. Dewo

      This apps blocks all distracting social media apps automatically, keeping you free from notifications and the constant light-up of your screen. The best part of Dewo is that it gets accustomed to your focus patterns and can even go on ‘automatic’ mode for you.

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      You can ask the app to schedule meetings and appointments for people in your contacts, and it simply picks the most convenient time for you that won’t interfere with your focus schedule.

      2. Freedom

      The Freedom app, much contrary to its name, restricts websites and locks up the internet during focus hours. Once you’ve made up your mind to lock up apps then it won’t let you access them regardless of how you feel later.

      For those who find themselves distracted even on their laptop, this app will work on the computer as well. Most people may consider these methods ruthless, but they are incredibly effective.

      3. Focusme

      Readers who are looking for an app that helps them create healthy work patterns, minimize distraction, block attractive sites, and much more – FocusMe is the perfect app for you. This app helps block out certain apps and sites for selected periods.

      It also gets used to the owner’s work ethic and gives helpful tips and suggestions on what apps to block and when to take breaks. This increases productivity and reduces the chances of dissatisfaction and boredom.

      The Bottom Line

      To become indistractable, you don’t need to have superpowers. It’s truly as easy as following the few steps mentioned above. When you master internal triggers, make time for traction, dissolve any extraneous external triggers, and prevent distractions by creating pacts, you will reshape your entire life.

      However, the important part is to understand that to make a difference, you need to act now. There is no better time to regain control over your life than the present. Taking things step-by-step helps you sustainably achieve your goals. You want to be indistractable for the rest of your life, not just for the week.

      Once you have the ability to see tasks to the end after having committed to them, nothing in life can derail you from your path. This is why indistractability is important, it disciplines you to deal with the harsh realities of life.

      Here are some tips on how to work on your traction just as you finish reading this article.

      • Go through your apps and remove ones that are absolutely unnecessary to your life and goal. You may keep only two that you use for games or recreation.
      • Practice mindfulness through keeping a diary, making observations about your day, having a to-do list, and much more.
      • Whenever you find yourself distracted, re-evaluate the place of that distraction in your life and how it implicates your life’s goals.

      More to Help You Stay Focused

      Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Nir Eyal, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

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