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How to Overcome Distractions

How to Overcome Distractions


    Many people write to me regarding their inability to carry out their resolve, their vow, to work right to the end, until their goal is accomplished. They are motivated, they have wisdom, resources, capability, yet they let distractions overpower them. Such distractions that cause a tide of emotions to rise, a tsunami of desires, shaking their resolve and crushing their strength to stay course, to stay firm. Yogic and vedic texts talk a great deal about vikṣiptatā, distractions, and how they are great obstacles. They can make all the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure.

    Let me help you understand distractions and ways to overcome them. They are of two types, as follows:

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    1. External distractions triggering inner reactions

    Let us assume, you committed to being a vegetarian and giving up alcohol. Everything was going fine until you were invited to that get together you could not afford to skip. Platters of your once favorite non-vegetarian dishes as well as vintage wine adorned the dining table. You feel tempted. Further, your folks around you force you to have some. You are given all sorts of reasoning and arguments to partake of what is at hand and not worry about your vow. Under social pressure and your own latent desire, you give into the temptations.

    In this case, an external environment, sighting of delicious food, triggered a whole heap of thoughts that weakened your resolve. Till you came to the party, you were at ease, but now, suddenly your inner world is in a turmoil and you let your heart rule your mind. In every likelihood, a sense of guilt will drape you soon after the party. Guilt weakens one’s consciousness.

    There are two ways to emerge winner while battling against external distractions:

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    • Remove yourself physically. A conducive environment helps a great deal in executing any plan. In the present example, avoid going to such places, parties where it is but natural that you will be offered everything contrary to what’s good for you. After all, chances of emerging spotless working in coal mines are but remote. Unless of course, you exercise great caution, extraordinary care. If changing your physical environment is not possible sometimes, follow step b, as below:
    • Make yourself clear. Granted, some people may think you are arrogant, or that, you no longer care, or that you have changed and so forth. Let them. Trust me, let them. If they really love you, they will not think any of these things and if they do not, does it matter anyway what they think? Ultimately, it is you alone who will be bearing the consequences, paying for your choices, at that time, no one else will be able to help you. So, stand by what you stand for. This always worked for me; before I renounced, for years I attended events of all sorts but never even once did I compromise on my own principles. People around me understood and accepted it.

    2. Inner thoughts triggering external actions

    Distractions of this type can be equally hard to manage. For example, let us say, you recently quit smoking. Day-in-day-out, you were living upto your own expectations and you did not smoke for ten days. One day, out of the blue, you just recollect the image of a cigarette, you try hard to not think of smoking but cigarette is what keeps coming back to your mind. You experience restlessness and the compulsion to smoke. The thought of smoking overpowers you to the degree that you get up and buy yourself a pack.

    There are two ways to overcome distraction of this type:

    • Take your mind off. Do not think about not doing the prohibited, instead just take a deep breath and focus your mind elsewhere. You cannot overcome thoughts of non-action by thinking about not acting on it! You must simply, gently, shift the spotlight of your thoughts. Change the scenery, get up, move around, win over a distraction with another one, a better one, if necessary. Do whatever it takes but do not give into the temptation.
    • Exercise patience (postpone). This method is more powerful than you might think. Just give your mind a bait, tell your mind that you will revisit the idea after an hour or two hours or something like that. Just let the storm of distraction pass, let your thoughts settle, let your mind calm down. If you can rein the horses while distraction comes attacking, you will remain focused, winning the battle. You will emerge a winner, stronger and a more confident person.

    Now, regardless of the nature of distraction, let me share with you the two most potent questions you can ask yourself to help you make the right decision, always. Yes, always.

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    1. Is this my best move? A chess grandmaster unfailingly asks one question before making each move in chess, and that is, is this my best move? That often prompts the player to think more, think better, think out-of-the-box and come up with extraordinary moves. Before you give in to a temptation, just before you decide to do something, a moment before taking an action, ask yourself: is this my best move, or, can I play better? If you are honest with yourself, you will find it easy to dissipate your distractions with minimal effort.
    2. What is the most that will happen? One is often not attached to the distraction but the pleasure they get from the fulfillment of such deviation. In removing distractions, you have to ask yourself the golden question- “what’s the most that will happen?”. Let us say you are distracted and really want to smoke, ask yourself, what’s the most that will happen? An ephemeral pleasure of a few hours, if that? Is that it? Is that enough to justify you compromising on your resolve? And if so, is that your best move!?

    Do you know who is your greatest friend, the one who can always stand by you and help you make the right decisions and make sure you tread the noble path? You.

    And your worst enemy? You.

    Ātmaiva hyātmanō bandhurātmaiva ripurātmanaḥ… (Bhagavad Gita, 6.5)

    You alone are your best friend and your own worst enemy.

    (Photo credit: Compass via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on February 25, 2020

    How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity

    How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity

    It’s 6:00 am. You have just woken up and are ready to take a shower. After the showering, it’s time to eat breakfast, catch the news by reading the morning paper, and then start your work.

    You are feeling wonderful, relaxed, and happy. You have very high expectations for the day and you want to be as productive as possible.

    Fast forward to 2 pm the same day. You are working in a rush and you barely had a chance to take a lunch break.

    You start to feel a bit stressed and tired because of the busy schedule. Besides, it seems that you have to go back to certain tasks and fix them, because you didn’t have time to focus on them properly.

    The day which started so fine has turned into a stressful one. You just jump from one task to another – as quickly as possible – without doing anything properly.

    You wish you’d find a reset button, so that you could start your day from all over – with a different strategy.

    What you probably experienced was this: you planned your day the night before and you felt you were on top of your tasks.

    However, things started to go wrong when you kept adding tasks after each other to your list and finally your task list was many miles long. Your to do list also contained tasks which were pretty much impossible to get done in one day.

    The other point which contributed to your hectic and stressful day was not understanding how much time completing a particular task would take and when to execute the task. If you had this information, it would have been easier to figure out the right timing for executing the task.

    Finally, there really wasn’t any flexibility in your plans. You forgot to add a buffer between tasks and understand that certain tasks are much larger than what they seem outside.

    But you know what – these reasons alone weren’t the main reason for your stress and busyness …

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    What People Are Wrong About a To-Do List

    Do you really know what you are supposed to do?

    How much time did you actually spent on planning your day – was it just 5 minutes while the television set was distracting you?

    If so, then this was probably the biggest reason why your day became so stressful.

    When you plan your days, you should truly understand the tasks you are about to do – and what it takes to accomplish them. This is necessary especially with important tasks, because you are able to make progress with the tasks that matter the most.

    The lack of time spent on planning will also be shown as too many big tasks stuffed to your daily list. If you haven’t broken down the task into smaller pieces, it’s probable that you are not going to get them done during the day. This in turn makes you to beat yourself for not completing your task list.

    Finally, don’t treat creating a task list just like some secondary thing that you try to do as quickly as possible. In fact, when you pay more attention to your next day’s task list, the more likely is the list going to be realistic and less stressful for you.

    Components of a Good To-Do List

    When I talk about a good task list, I consider these characteristics to be part of it:

    Balanced

    The task list contains both important and less important tasks. Let’s face it: although we all would like to work on just important tasks ( e.g. goal related ones), we have to take care of the less important tasks as well (like running errands, taking care of your household or other everyday stuff).

    Enough Flexibility

    What happens when you have planned a task, but you are unable to take care of it? Do you have a plan B in place? If not, try to figure out the alternative action you can take in these scenarios.

    Time for Transitions

    Understand that transition times also eat your time. Make sure that when you plan your task list, this time is also included in your plans. Adding some extra buffer between tasks will make your list more flexible and realistic.

    Not Too Many Tasks for One Day

    Giving you an exact figure on how many tasks you should have on your daily list is difficult. It depends on your situation. But I’m willing to say that anything between 5-10 tasks should be enough for a day.

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    Understand that certain tasks are very quick to take care of, so it’s easier to include more tasks on certain days. Just make sure that there are also important tasks on the list so that you are able to move on with your bigger projects.

    Shield of Protection

    Build a shield of protection around your task list, so that as few tasks as possible can land to your list and that the number of items on your list won’t increase during the day.

    In the first case, try to eliminate the sources for your tasks. This is done by reducing your commitments and limiting the projects you have. The fact is that the more commitments (or projects) you have, the more likely they are going to end up as tasks for your daily list.

    In the second case, make your list a closed one. I learned this concept by reading Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management by Mark Forster. In order to create a closed task list, all you have to do is to draw a line under the last task on the list. When you have done this, you are not allowed to add any new tasks to your list during the day. This ensures that the number of tasks is actually decreasing as the day goes on.

    How to Create a To-Do List That Boosts Your Productivity

    To make a list that you can actually accomplish the next day, do the following:

    1. Eliminate the Tasks

    Go through your commitments and decide if you really need each one.

    For instance, I was an active member of our local computer club in my hometown, but then I realized that I don’t have enough time for that activity anymore. Although I’m still a member of the club, I don’t participate in its activities anymore. This has eliminated the tasks related to that commitment.

    2. Take Your Time to Plan the List

    Don’t rush creating your task list – spend some time on the planning phase. If required, “isolate yourself” for the planning part by going to a separate room in your home (or even going outside your home). This way, you can actually think the tasks thorough before you enter them onto your list.

    Try to spend at least 15 minutes with your list when you plan it.

    3. Move Important Tasks to the Beginning

    When planning your day, make sure that the important tasks are at the beginning of your list. This ensures that you get those tasks done as quickly as possible.

    For instance, as a blogger, I make sure I have the content creation tasks at the beginning of my list. As soon as I wake up, I attack those tasks immediately and they get done before I go to work.

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    4. Track the Recurring Tasks

    You might have recurring tasks on your list, but do you know how much time they take to accomplish?

    If you don’t, make sure you do some time tracking to figure it out. This helps you to plan your day better, as you know how much time a task takes and if there is a certain time slot in your daily schedule, when the task could be executed.

    5. Batch Similar Tasks

    Look at your list and find out if there are similar tasks that you can batch-process. This way, you can get certain tasks off your list faster and easier.

    6. Define the Tasks in More Detail

    Don’t just include a task like “build a website” on your list; make sure you have broken the task to smaller pieces. The smaller the tasks are, the easier it is to take accomplish them.

    7. Do Some Prep Work in Advance

    Make sure that you prepare for certain tasks in advance.

    For instance, I write the outlines for my guests post on Sundays, so that it’s easier (and faster) for me to start writing the actual posts when I wake up. With a little bit of prep work, I speed things up and make sure tasks get done when the right day comes.

    8. Automate the Maintenance

    Naturally, you could use a pen and paper approach to your task list, but try to take advantage of technology too. In fact, try to find a tool that takes care of the maintenance of your task list for you. My preferred tool is Nozbe, but there are other task management applications that you can try too.

    9. Know Your Task Types and Your Schedule

    Finally, when you plan your day, ask yourself these questions:

    What else do I have on the schedule?

    This question refers to your personal schedule. For instance, if you are traveling, make sure that your list reflects to this fact. Don’t try to “overstuff” your list with too many tasks, since it’s more likely you get only a fraction of them done.

    Is the task a gatekeeper?

    This question asks if the task is blocking other tasks to be executed.

    Every once in a while, we might have a task, which has to be taken care of first. After you have done that, only then you can take care of the sequential tasks.

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    When you focus on creating your task list in a focused manner, you’ll be able to spot the gatekeepers easily.

    Do I have icebergs on my list?

    This question asks if your task is actually much bigger than what it seems. Sometimes when you start working on a task, you’ll soon realize that it’s much bigger than what you initially thought (compare them to icebergs, where only the tip of the iceberg is above the sea level, but the majority of the ice is below the water).

    Once again, when you focus enough on your task list during the creation phase, it’s easier to spot these “icebergs” and split the tasks into smaller, much more manageable chunks.

    Is the task distraction-proof?

    This final question asks if the task is distraction-proof. Not all the tasks are created equal: some tolerate more distraction, while others require your full attention.

    For instance, I can check my Twitter stream or do simple blog maintenance even when I’m around my family. These tasks are distraction-proof and I can take care of them – even if I don’t have my full attention on them.

    The Bottom Line

    If you still have a hard time of achieving your daily tasks, make sure that you analyze the reasons why this happened. If anything, do not beat yourself up for not finishing your task list.

    No one is perfect and we can learn from our mistakes.

    It takes a bit practice to create a “smiling” task list. However, once you learn to put all the pieces together, things are going to look much better!

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    Featured photo credit: Jacqueline Kelly via unsplash.com

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