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The 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distraction and Get Things Done

The 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distraction and Get Things Done

Do you ever have enough time to fit it all in? Are you time deficient and task overloaded? If you are, don’t worry—you are not alone, and there are ways to take control of your workload and get your work done.

Disturbed Focus

One of the reasons that many people are overloaded with work is not because they have too much to do, but because we live in a world of information overload and our focus is constantly being disturbed. Have you ever sat in a coffee shop or in an airport and gotten more work done in an hour than you do in a week? Sound familiar? That’s because sometimes when we are out of our own environment we are not being disturbed by a barrage of distractions. It’s crazy to think that when undisturbed, we can achieve so much in a short space of time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could imitate that everyday?

Well the good news is you can if you choose to. You first have to identify the things that distract you, and then set about eliminating or at least reducing them from your day.

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1. Clutter

On the outside, clutter appears to be an innocent by-product from our hectic lifestyles but in fact, clutter can be guilty of a lot more than an untidy environment. Clutter affects your state of being whether you are aware of it consciously or not, by disturbing your focus and confusing your mind. The first step to having fierce focus is de-cluttering your space and your mind. Make sure you have the right storage for your stuff; the main reason for clutter is that an object that gets left lying around doesn’t have a home. Correct storage solutions will avoid this, so invest in proper storage to avoid this from happening, but only after you have de-cluttered and removed unnecessary objects from your life.

2. Get Organized

After de-cluttering, you will need to organize what is left over; this will reduce the amount of time you spend looking for things and keep you feeling calmer and in control of your duties and responsibilities. If you work with paper you will need an effective filing system: consider a filing cabinet with hanging folders and labelled manila inserts for clear and easy retrieval, and a desk stand for current folders and work in action. Alternatively, if you decide to go paperless, you will need an efficient folder structure on your PC to store your scanned documents. A program such as Evernote allows you to store your documents in Notebooks with tags.

3. Schedule

“What gets scheduled, gets done.” If you want to get something done, stick it in your diary. Once you plan something it’s difficult to avoid doing it—you may move it from one week to the next, but you will eventually have to tackle it. If you find you are still ignoring a task, ask yourself whether it’s really important. Maybe it is no longer a priority and doesn’t need to be done at all. Planning your tasks is the best way to avoid been pulled in all directions by your own distracted mind, or by others looking for your time and attention. If you have allocated an hour for a project and someone comes looking for your help, you will be more likely to tell them to call back later or to schedule a time to speak to them.

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4. Disconnect

Once you have created a clear, clutter-free, organized environment, you need to do the same with your electronics. One of the chief time thieves of our day is technology; though created to make our lives easier, it is guilty of absorbing our minutes like an hourglass pulls sand to its base. If you want to achieve great things you need to be in control and not react to every bell and whistle that comes out of your electronic devices.

What to do?

Switch off all notifications from social networks, and go to these programs only when you allocate time for them; not when someone thinks their update is more important that you getting your work done.

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Process Emails twice or three times a day—turn off notifications, and batch process them.

Send fewer emails to receive fewer. Consider using other methods of communication appropriate to the message.

Shut down the Internet and your email when you are trying to get work done. If you find this too difficult, you could use something like Leechblock, a browser Add-on that will limit your access to the Internet during specified times of the day.

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5. Get Out of the House/Office

I’m writing this while sitting in a coffee shop. I come here to write; there is no Internet connection and all I can do is write or stare out the window at the wild sea, which helps my mind to focus on what I am doing. When I work from home I get distracted easily. Leaving the house and sipping a chai while writing allows me to get so much more done than I would at home.

Awareness

The first step to improving your situation is recognizing your own distractions and working on a solution to eliminate or reduce them from your life. It’s your life, and your responsibility to make the changes necessary to help you to reduce stress and get a hell of a lot more done.

 

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Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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