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Dealing with Distractions

Dealing with Distractions

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    We each have many distractions that keep us from getting things done. I noticed a few prominent distractions in my life this week (Twitter and Digg are taking over!) and I felt that it was time to address the problem! I know that I am capable of getting things done and achieving things but I’ve noticed that distractions can get the better of me. When I’ve planned to research a topic for a new article, sometimes I “wake up” and realise that I’ve been browsing Digg for the past 30 minutes. Not only does this cut down the time I have in a day, but more than anything it hinders my ability to concentrate on the task.

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    I see concentration as being split into three different levels.

    The first level is acknowledging that I have work to do. I can sit down and make a start, but I’m vulnerable to distractions and they can easily get the better of me. At this stage it sometimes feels like I’m looking for an excuse not to work. My mind can easily wander onto other things, and I often think about what is happening on Twitter, and that 5 minutes checking it won’t hurt!

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    The second stage delves a little deeper, as I’m starting to understand the task and my mind starts to figure out what is going on. At this point some distractions die down as I start to get more involved with the task at hand, but there are a few that can still break my concentration. If I got a phone call at this point, I would probably find my way onto the Internet after that, and blame the person who called for distracting me!

    The final level of concentration is when I’m totally immersed in the work, I’m 100% focused and in the flow. At this point I’ve developed some form of “armor” against distractions and it takes a lot to pull me away from the task. We all produce our best work when we’re concentrating fully on the task, and it is this stage that is the most useful to us is any line of work.

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    Getting to the final stage of concentration is not always easy, and avoiding the minefield of distractions can be overwhelming at first, but if we sit down and just think about the distractions, it is usually simple enough to remove them. If we’re fully aware of what distracts us, and we consciously remove them, we can then start to concentrate on our work. The important point is to make sure that we get rid of them before we start anything, otherwise we’ll wake up from a daze and realise we’ve been doing something else for some time!

    Before I start writing an article, the first thing I do is disconnect from the Internet. The majority of my life seems to revolve around cyberspace and cutting off is the only way I can get anything done. When writing I use a program called PyRoom for Ubuntu (the equivalent of WriteRoom for Mac 0r Dark Room for Windows) which is a full screen text editor. I see nothing but a black screen with green text (like The Matrix) so I don’t get distracted by the formatting options and also the spell checker. When I make a spelling mistake in a word processor, the fact that it is underlined in red makes me want to click it right away and change it, and I lose my train of thought. I type up the draft in PyRoom and then copy and paste it to a word processor so that I can proofread it. I also have been experimenting with setting a specific time that I can browse Digg or check my Twitter updates. When I keep the distractions separated from the work, I don’t find myself thinking about what else I could be doing mid-paragraph.

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    Taking care of my distractions before I start any work allows me to concentrate on the task at hand as I don’t have any battles with an urge to check any social media updates because I’ve already disconnected myself from cyberspace.

    If we deal with distractions from the start, getting the work done becomes so much easier!

    Photo courtesy of tomsaint11

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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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