“Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus.” — Ann Voskamp
Our world has become a constant feed of information, noise, and entertainment. Our phones live not just in our pockets, but in front of our eyes. The influence of the Internet and its constant stream of information is accessible from nearly corner of our world. Breaking news breaks into our day at breakneck speed. And we are fed messages relentlessly from advertisements on nearly every flat surface. Each distraction enters our mind with one goal: Gain control of our attention and resources.
As a result, we live distracted lives and our ability to focus, create, and accomplish suffers significantly. It is increasingly clear that distractions are not going away on their own. Instead, the responsibility is ours to live attentive, intentional lives in a world of distraction. This is a goal we must continue to seek.
To live life with less distraction, consider implementing one or more of these 10 unconventional habits:
1. Turn off smart phone notifications. Our smart phones have quickly become one of the greatest sources of distraction in our lives. The average person now checks their mobile phone 150 times every day (just short of every 6 waking minutes). To limit the distractive nature of your smart phone, turn off all nonessential notifications (Email, Facebook, Twitter, Games, etc.) as a default setting. As a result, you will be able to check your apps on your schedule at appropriate times throughout the day.
2. Read/Answer email only twice each day. When we keep our email client open all day, we surrender our attention to the most recent bidder rather than the most important. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we understand why the habit of checking email only twice/day is promoted over and over again by some of the most productive people in our world today (Michael Hyatt, Scott Belsky, Leo Babauta). Schedule your email processing. You will feel the benefits immediately as the habit instantly limits incoming distraction.
3. Complete 1-2 minute projects immediately. Our lives and minds are often cluttered and distracted by the many unfinished projects around us (unanswered email, household chores, financial responsibilities). Fortunately, many of these projects can be completed in far less time than we think. To live with less distraction, if a project can be completed in less than 2 minutes, adopt a “one-minute-rule” mentality.
4. Remove physical clutter. Unnecessary clutter is a significant form of visual distraction. Consider this: everything in our eyesight subtly pulls at our attention at least a little. And the more we remove, the less visual stress and distraction we experience. Clear your desk, your walls, your counters, and your home of unneeded possessions. You’ll be surprised at your newfound ability to focus.
5. Clear visible, distracting digital clutter. Just like physical clutter distracts our attention, digital clutter accomplishes the same. Desktop icons, open programs, and other visible notifications jockey for unannounced attention in our mind. Notice the digital triggers that grab your attention. And ruthlessly remove them.
6. Accept and accentuate your personal rhythms. Discover the rhythms of your day to make the most of them. For example, I do my best creative work in the morning, afternoons work well for busy-work, and evenings are set aside for family—leaving late evenings for entertainment, rest, and guilt-free distraction. Accepting and understanding our natural rhythms to the day/week provides healthy motivation to remove distractions during our most productive parts of the day knowing there is opportunity later to indulge them
7. Establish a healthy morning routine. Henry Ward Beecher once said, “The first hour is the rudder of the day.” He was absolutely right. Begin your days on your terms apart from distraction. If possible, wake first in your household. Drink your coffee or tea or fix yourself a warm breakfast. Journal or read or just enjoy the silence. Develop a distraction-free morning routine. It will lay the foundation for a less-distracted day.
8. Cancel cable / Unplug television. It is difficult to argue against the distracting nature of our television. Researchers tell us the average American watches 37-40 hours of television each week. There is, of course, a solution to this madness: unplug your television completely. But if this step seems too drastic a stretch for your family, you’ll never regret the simple decision to cancel cable. Your calendar will thank you for the extra time available. Your wallet will thank you for the extra dollars. And you’ll quickly wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
9. Keep a to-do list. One of the most helpful and practical pieces of advice I ever received about keeping focus is the simple solution of keeping a to-do list handy and current. No matter how hard you try to manage yourself, new responsibilities and opportunities will surface in your mind from internal and external sources. The opportunity to quickly write down the task allows it to be quickly discarded from your mind. I use Clear as a simple, easy-to-use opportunity list.
10. Care less what other people think. The value of your life is not measured by the number of likes your Facebook post receives or the number of positive comments on your blog post. Please understand, there is great value in humbly seeking opinion and appreciating the wise counsel of those who love you. But there is no value in wasting mental energy over the negative criticism of those who only value their own self-interests. Learn to recognize the difference. And stop living distracted over the opinion of people who don’t matter.
There is little doubt our world is filled with constant distraction—it always has been. And there is little doubt that those who achieve the greatest significance in life learn to manage them effectively—they always have.
Image: Richard Ruzsa