How to Overcome Distraction

Distraction is a serious and world-wide problem. Office distraction especially. Not only it makes thousands people feel unsatisfied when it comes to answer “what have I accomplished today?” question, but also it is a hit to overall business performance – because huge amounts of critical time are being constantly lost.

Somewhat less often talked about is a personal distraction preventing many of us from reaching the goals of life – countless number of books/paintings/songs are never written, millions of tons of excess weight are never been worked off, innumerable life changing ventures are not even been thought about. You can continue this depressing list, I suppose.

We call it distraction, procrastination, lack of will, laziness, weakness, sluggishness, loss of motivation etc.

Books, posts, talks, advices, motivating speeches are all around but the question is standing still.

In this article I consider two question:

  • Classification of distraction
  • Methods to overcome distraction

The distraction classification scheme:

Outer (focus related):

  • Information overload (cannot gain focus)
  • Unexpected events (frequent loss of focus)

Inner (mind related):

  • Fear
  • Fuzzy thinking

Here is a more detailed scheme with some examples:

This classification of course is not a complete one, but for it helps to identify the sources of distraction, and then to develop a techniques for overcoming it.

Let’s move on to the methods and techniques.

Common methods can be divided into following classes:

  • Inbox management methods: if you have constant inbox overload, that blocks your thinking ability, you should consider these methods. Simple enough, they are well-tested and described in high details. A lot can be found at 43 Folders, Lifehack and others.
  • Prioritization methods: the core here is development of prioritization habit – you should determine your system of values and then assign priorities for every single task according to your values. Seems all time management/productivity books consider these methods – look there.
  • Distraction source avoidance: these include identifying and getting rid of most dangerous distraction sources while working (disabling IMs, Twitter, always on top email-clients, junk food within eyeshot etc.), allocation of “distraction hours”, developing a habits of distraction-free work.

The methods are over here. And the temptation to use them out of the box is over here too. But what I have learned from lots of personal management attempts, is that nothing will work out the box when it comes to personal management.

Each single method should be adapted to you, to your lifestyle, to your health, to your work, to your family, to your religion, to your habits, to your self-image – only then it will have a chance to work.

That is why I think it is important to give some hints on developing a methods to overcome distraction.

First of all, each method should by definition have bounds of application. Some people do not take this fact into account, and this is a mistake, I think.

  1. Thus, developing of a method begin with delimitation of its bounds. Having the scheme above it is fairly easy to do on the classification basis.
    The key here is to identify the most significant distraction, and develop a technique to reduce it to zero.
  2. Once you are done with this, you have both the goal and the bounds of methods.
    Now you need a goal testing criterion – answer the question – “how will you understand that you have no distraction?” Define the exact conditions you are seeking.
  3. After that the method should be described. It indeed can be the adapted variation of existing technique, or combination of some (don’t be scared to mix them up).
  4. Avoid abstract descriptions. The method should be as much personal as possible – it is for you only, you should literally feel each step, see it crystally clear. (That is why I’m not giving a hypothetical examples here – they would be meaningless.)
  5. The main point: method should be smooth, incremental, easy to use. If you have to study a 100 pages spec to reduce IM-twaddle, I guess you won’t. First steps should be the easiest.
  6. Once the method is smooth, start applying it.

Summing up, the main steps to develop a method for overcoming distraction:

  • Determine the most significant distraction you experience – that is goal and bounds for the method.
  • Define the conditions that will tell you when you are done.
  • Describe method in personal terms, so you can feel each step.
  • Assure that method is smooth to apply, if not, make it smoother.
  • Take the first step

Well, today I shared some thought on method design, in future I am going to share the exact method I implemented for myself, just to prove the concept.

In addition, I will write about Roots of Distraction in detail. Stay tuned.

Leading picture by Erick Schonfeld.

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