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How To Focus and Think Creatively When Interruptions Are Everywhere

How To Focus and Think Creatively When Interruptions Are Everywhere

Do you ever feel so overwhelmed by a constant barrage of text messages, phone calls, and stressful thoughts that you don’t know what to do first? There’s no denying that it can be hard to concentrate in the information age, where there is an interruption waiting to disrupt your train of thought behind every corner. Boost your focus and think creatively in these four ways.

Act now (not later!).

“One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly, until he knows that every day is Doomsday.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most people are so caught up in stressful future things they can’t control that they don’t appreciate the things they can do right NOW to improve their life. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to complete what sounded like a complicated project in a REALLY short period of time? If so, I bet you were surprised by how much work you can get done quickly when you have no other options. With that in mind, below are some common stressful thoughts that make it difficult to focus on the present moment, and the actionable solutions you should swap in their place.

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“I don’t know how I’ll be ever able to afford (insert bill here).”

“I will save up some extra money by cutting all unnecessary expenses, working an extra shift, selling some clothes I never wear, offering to do yard-work or baby-sitting for my friends, or finding a side-hustle I can pursue on my own time.” 

“I wish I could stop worrying about that hurtful thing my friend or partner said earlier.”

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“I will confront them about this issue as soon as I get home, because I know things only get worse when I put off difficult conversations.”

“I don’t know if the person I like returns the feeling, and I can’t get them off my mind.”

“I will test the waters by inviting them to go play pool, see a movie, have a drink, (insert fun thing here). Even if they don’t like me, it would be better to find out sooner than later, because then I will be able to move on.” 

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Silence your phone.

“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” — Susan Sontag

It is amazing that we carry around devices capable of accessing all of the knowledge known to man, yet we use them in the least productive way possible. There is nothing wrong with communicating with your friends via text, but leaving your cell phone’s volume turned up all the time is an open invitation for procrastination to sneak in. If a person really needs something, then they will leave a voice-mail (and as an added bonus, they’ll probably be a lot more concise about it than they would have been in an actual conversation).

Keep a book with you.

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” — Walt Disney Company

Speaking of cell phones, stop pissing away every precious moment of silence you have by playing Angry Birds (or whatever silly game is popular these days). Keep a book in your car or purse to read during any unplanned down-time. You will engage your mind with an active learning experience that introduces you to new ideas, or in the case of fiction, be whisked away to a new world where you’ll be challenged to create a mental picture of characters that are only described in words. Consider keeping pen and paper with you at all times, too, because if you’re ever struck with a brilliant thought that you don’t want to risk forgetting, you’ll be able to write it down as soon as it occurs to you. 

Take a break to meditate.

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”
― Zig Ziglar

Your brain can only focus on a task for 45 minutes at a time, so you might want to take a mini-break once per hour to improve your concentration. You could take a quick walk outside, look at the sky, identify cloud shapes, quiet your inner-chatter, and listen to bird songs. If you have a job that won’t allow you to escape your desk, you could simply stand up and stretch out the areas of your body that feel stiff. And before you get back to work, take a moment to meditate (it only takes a minute!).

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How do you think creatively despite the interruptions that surround you? Tell us in the comments, then click the share button to invite your friends to the conversation.

Featured photo credit: Bos Ross/Sip and Splash via sipandsplash.com

More by this author

Daniel Wallen

Daniel is a writer who focuses on blogging about happiness and motivation at Lifehack.

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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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