10 Unconventional Habits to Live Distraction-Less


“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

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Solid list. The way I became way more productive was a combination of 2 items listed: only tackling the inbox twice a day (allows me to focus on big wins, the top priorities) and a to-do list.

    While I always had a running to-do list, I changed how I use it so that every Monday I jot down three things I want to accomplish that week both at work (e.g., finish report on X and send it out, get feedback on Y, start a rough draft of slide deck on Z) and at home (e.g., call credit card company about X, send out invites for Y, book hotel for Z).

    Every morning I look at the list to make sure I’m focusing on those things and at the end of the week I go over the list, mostly to find everything checked off. If for some reason I wasn’t able to check everything off, I’m brutally honest with myself why I wasn’t able to.

    It works wonders.

    • joshua becker says

      Thanks for the comment pb. I guess it is safe to say “unconventional” is going to vary from person to person. For most of my adult life, I have not put these items above into practice (email, simplicity, routine, cable television, enough to-do lists). In that way, they were unconventional practices to me… and I believe to be unconventional in many other lives as well.

  2. says

    Thanks for offering up these ideas… lots useful in there. As one of those with a butterfly mind – I can make great lists… then forget to refer to them…
    I do a daily call (weekdays) with a buddy before starting work – where we commit to 3 small actions for the day. Amazing how that accountability works for the encouragement to stay on task, and the support to rest as needed. Love your blog – keep it up.
    ps Thanks for the ‘reasons to write a blog’ which I read yesterday as I’m still teetering…

  3. says

    Wait, I should KEEP the to-do list? I understand perfectly the ideas list (for example I got one for topics on my blog), I understand the day plans list (aka 3-4 most important things I am going to do today).. But to-do lists?

    They are essentially worthless most of the time because the ideas and things to do written there not only get easily forgotten, but also keep annoying the crap out of me. I once had a list where few of the things to do stayed there in the top for more than three months. Three months of “hey, look, there is one more thing left”!

    Writing down ONE goal and then every day writing down 4 smaller things to do is way better idea. Well, way easier to not to get crazy, at least.

    • joshua becker says

      Thanks for the comment. I have found an Opportunities List (To-Do list) to be helpful. It may not be the same for others. But for me, if I am focusing on something else and an item enters my mind, it is helpful to quickly jot down the item and move forward with my current project. Writing it down allows me the opportunity to not worry about it or be distracted by it at the given time.

    • says

      Debesyla, it sounds like your to-do list wasn’t really a good reflection of your priorities. The question (to me) is, does that mean to-do lists are inherently a problem? Or does it just mean they need to be managed better?

      After all, one large goal and four tasks a day is still a to-do list – it’s just a more immediately relevant one.

      Out of curiosity, where do you park your long-term to-dos in your current system?

    • Chris says

      I found my head (and does anything else really matter :) decluttered more easily when I became regular about keeping a to-do list. It’s not that everything on that list gets done–far from it, but the important things do (or they will usually appear on a future list). I sit down nearly every morning and spend five or so minutes emptying whatever’s on my brain at the moment onto a list. Handwritten for the most part, and I don’t filter for importance or priority. The old list may or may not be at hand. The little stuff vacates my brain freeing me to focus on that which needs my attention, and as a bonus, I’ll effortlessly remember to stop at the store for more coffee and cream.

  4. Terry says

    Awesome advice! Ive been making one small change daily and the encouragement received from these daily readings is making a huge positive impact on my life. THANK YOU!!!!!

  5. says

    Thanks for the list, thought I might call the 10 items unpopular instead of unconventional. So many of the enumerated habits are well-known ways to reduce or eliminate distractions; but those items are the things that many of us struggle, or loathe, putting in motion. I am glad that you closed with the word “manage.” We may not be able to control every distraction, but we are not completely powerless and have the ability to manage distractions.

    One of the things that I’ve noticed with people is making and maintaining a To-Do list is akin to dieting or journaling. A lot of people endeavor to diet or keep a journal. They start out with a full head of steam, only to find the motivation and practice wane after a few weeks or months. I practice most of these items, except for the email notifications. I work in a job that just doesn’t allow for silencing email notifications. The only time that I silence my email notifications at work is when I’m focusing on a project; otherwise it dings away all day. Fortunately, I don’t respond to the email sound l like Pavlov’s dog.

  6. says

    Interesting that you included a to-do list, when so many people advise against it. I have found keeping such a list to be quite helpful, especially when I’m doing things I’d rather not be doing (like decluttering the house and paring down so we can move). In a perfect world, lists would not be necessary, because we would only do things we like. But sometimes a little drudgery is necessary to make good things happen, and the list gets me up off the couch (and away from the computer!)

    • joshua becker says

      I commented above on my personal use of to-do lists as I have found them helpful in managing distractions. Additionally, I have found that they do hep improve my productivity as well keeping me focused on the very next thing to do.

  7. says

    I love number 7 and Beecher’s quote! I’m going to remember that first hour’s importance. I need to implement checking email just twice a day too. blessings, Amy

  8. Stephen MacLeod says

    The single best thing I have done, in the past year, is to cancel cable television. You will be surprised how quickly you stop missing it. Not that I have been completely deprived, mind you. There are about 5 or 6 television shows that I still watch (thank you European streaming websites), but the goal is that once a television show is eventually cancelled (a la “Dexter”, this season), do not add a new television show to the list. Soon, everything I watched (and became pitifully and ridiculously addicted to) will be gone and my last tie to television will have been severed. Let’s face it; even the quality programming that is available, from time to time, can be accessed via the Internet, if/when we decide to do so. Why continue to throw time and money out the window, for cable?

    • James says

      I tried that once because I got tired of new shows being canceled on cliffhangers and I did not like being tired down to watch so much live tv. However with DVD or the internet everything is on my time so I added WAY too many shows and I think I may try not to add new shows and slowly over time get down to a few main ones once they end their runs.

      Plus if anything looks good in the future I can just check it out on Netflix. Cable is too costly overall.

  9. says

    The ideas are simple enough, yet it’s amazing how easily we fall back into old distracting habits. Getting things to completion is certain to give me a boost of focus. My day always starts the best if I set it up the night before. I clear my desk of everything but my book, journal and pen for my morning routine. Then straight into the top 3-5 things I must accomplish that day.

  10. says

    Thanks for sharing Josh. One thing I have to add – instead of a conventional “to do” list, start each day out with 3 things that you are going to focus on. That eliminates lists that are too long or erratic and keeps you concentrating on what is really important. That has really helped me because I used to operate of a list that was a dumping grounds for priorities and “nice to have” goals.

  11. says

    All great reminders! I find a “to-do” list helpful because it allows me to unclutter my memory trying to remember things that I need to accomplish and don’t want to forget to do. The only one I would add (that is probably obvious to most of your readers) is to go debt free as much as possible. When you eliminate the stress of having to pay bills–AND the time and energy it takes to manage the bills to be paid–not to mention the time to make money to pay extra bills–you have TONS of extra time to do the things that you love. ~Kathy

  12. says

    This is a pretty easy to follow list of things to do. I’m thinking number 7 is a great way to start the day out right. You could even add a 15 minute meditation in there to help put you in a better frame of mind. I also liked number 10 for the obvious reasons….
    Thank you,

  13. says

    I’ve taken all of these on board as I’ve simplified and Minimalised over the last few years. The biggest changes and benefits for me were 7) The morning routine and 1) turning off the distractions.
    Mornings are the quiet distraction-less calm. There’s very few about at 5am so I can concentrate on planning the day and doing the things I value and enjoy.
    Distraction is a terrible thing, I couldn’t abide the new ‘distraction centre’ of a certain smartphone, so thats gone.
    Interesting comments on the to-do list. I agree, its great to have somewhere to put things so they aren’t forgotten, but it can also be a contrant reminder of what you’ve not done. Maybe thats just the procrastinator in me talking.

  14. says

    This post was an incredibly important reminder for me. I am already on a journey towards a more minimalist lifestyle and have ditched the cable, use a daily to-do list, and have de-cluttered my home to the essentials. I am working on not being a slave to my smart phone and email and I need to figure out a healthier morning routine. I often have a hard time getting up in the morning and unless it is a weekend I find myself pressed for time nearly all of the time when I start my day. I would love more tips on how to get myself into a better routine!

  15. says

    Amen to #8. We moved into a new house on a new street 3 days before Christmas. Cable had not been run to our street so at the time the only option was satellite dish. We opted no because it was higher than basic cable and we couldn’t fit it into our budget. Now, it’s the best decision we ever made for our family besides cutting up our credit cards. I only wish we had done it sooner! Love your blog!

  16. says

    How about this radical step – don’t carry your smart phone everywhere. People think they are super important but really they are not that important.

  17. says

    Great list Joshua. I totally agree that having a well-organized to-do list can greatly reduce distraction and keep you focused. We also got rid of cable a few months ago. I haven’t regretted it at all. We have a Roku box for Hulu Plus and Netflix, and our tv time has gone down considerably now that we have to be intentional about what we want to watch. There’s no more turning on the tv and just leaving it on all time. The money savings has been wonderful too!

  18. says

    Another great article J.B.

    There are just far too many distractions in our modern lives, distractions that steal away our precious free time, leaving little time left for the things that truly matter.

    If you enjoyed reading this article then you will bring probably enjoy my article ‘It’s time to ditch a time-stealer on my website, http://www.thedebtfreeminimalist.com, an inspiring blog about how to live a simple, frugal, debt-free, minimalist life.

    My latest blogs include:

    Are you a clutterist? Take the 5-a-day challenge (and i’m not talking fruit!)

    The duvet which made a difference (a tale of giving)

    Is the iPhone such a smart phone?

    A tale of opportunity cost (and the effects of compound interest)

    What ever happened to the idea of a 15-hour week? (A tale of priorities and the value of time)

  19. Bill Berry says

    Setting limits on computer time is essential to your wellness. Smart phones are actually stupid in many, many ways. I agree with all of the advice offered here. The sedentary, obesity age we currently are enjoying is a direct result of the so called “information age”. News Flash!: (Information has always been with us.) The “info” load is so overwhelming most of us are operating in a dream-like state, unable to process even a portion of the fire-hose supply aimed at us daily. I have been a computer worker now for 20 years, I am doing my best to get out. It is rare to see a computer worker with any level of physical fitness, especially the older ones. The machines are literally destroying our bodies, eyeballs, and ability to think clearly.

  20. says

    Great list which is quite achievable – in terms of the to-do list I often think that a digital to-do list using a simple note taking app on our phone or other device is great, it’s a very proactive asset which keeps you current with what you have done and what still needs to be done.

  21. says

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  22. Jessica says

    I use lists all the time! It helps me so much, I also get more done at home, at work or anywhere else.

    I will be turning my notifications on my phone off today. You are right we check it all the time. I will still check my phone elsey couple hours for how many steps I have walked but thats about it. ( gotta get those 10,000 in )

  23. says

    These are great points. In addition, I would add foster the habit of self discipline and set strong personal boundaries. Focussing on improving self discipline really helps with breaking the destructive habits of distraction and the strong boundaries help us turn new healthy habits into the norm.

  24. Vivian says

    To-Do lists are critical in my life and here is why: 1) When I leave the house, I check to see what “to-do” things can be combined; 2) Because I can no longer do some things around the house, I make lists of things I need help with. I make them by the name of the person I will ask to do them – different people in my life have different talents. By making these lists, I maximize the time they have to give me and set priorities for what I most need help with. Therefore I do not waste their time and it leaves time for visiting, having a meal, etc. 3) Grocery lists by aisle make for efficient shopping and less impulse buying. Works at other stores as well: Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, IKEA, etc. 4) Planning a trip – what do I want to see/do, where would I like to eat. 5) Making a list of books that I want to read. Maybe I don’t have time right now but in the future, I can request it from the library.

    The type and number of lists can be a valuable tool as long as you don’t spend more time making the list than it takes to complete the task. I use Google Keep as a simple list that syncs automatically on my laptop and phone.

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    • Catherine Peters says

      I am on board with everything except the cable. I was an only child, a latch key kid, and tv was my companion. The mere thought of going without makes me feel anxious and fearful, especially when my husband is sometimes gone for 2-3 weeks at a time on business trips. The tv is a companion, a comfort, but also a HUGE time and energy drain. I’d love some advice/support on how to make the transition to no tv. My hubby and I are on vacation now and have not turned it on once so I know it can be done in certain circumstances.

      Also a tidbit about lists… I bought a dry erase sticker that adheres to the outside of the fridge and that’s where we keep a running list of groceries/supplies needed and weekend chores. This has been a godsend and makes it so easy to rid my brain of those tiny distractions that otherwise keep bouncing around in my consciousness.

  26. Janet says

    Here’s one that will help out with #10 immeasurably:

    Drop your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

    You will also be helping your “friends” who have developed an unhealthy narcissistic streak that encourages them to believe that untold numbers of people actually care about every minute of their day.

  27. says

    Loved this post. Another item to include: Don’t read and constantly comment on conversation strings! I just scrolled down and entered this comment. To let you know my appreciation. The posts following your blog are most likely all positive (which is a good thing). But generally comments following news articles or blogs are filled with negativity and if you respond, you end up in an argument that simmers in your mind, wasting valuable energy! And really? Nobody cares!

    So, following my own advice. First: thank you for a great article. I will now end this post and not read any responses! 8^)

  28. Jean Ratiff says

    Wow I so needed to read this. Ever since I got my smart phone and new lenova yoga laptop…my mind has suffered overload. So true this article.

  29. Wendy says

    Thanks for this. These habits are truly countercultural. I’m glad I live by a few of them already, and I definitely need to adopt more items on your list. We got rid of cable and tv over 3 years ago and never looked back. This single step alone, has led to our children rarely viewing advertisements. It almost immediately changed how our children desired less stuff. Though that was not even our goal — we really only wanted to save a few bucks. I grew up eating dinner from the sofa while watching Jeopardy and Seinfeld reruns and all those commercials in between. It’s probably just a small thing, but my husband and I raise our children differently. My family only streams movies from our computer when we choose to have a movie night and we eat all three meals at the dining room table with only each other’s faces to look at. Inevitably, conversation ensues. Imagine that?! Oh, and I changed the settings on my smartphone after reading the first item.

  30. Me_In_Dixon says

    People are watching more TV because they DON’T HAVE WORK!

    If you really consider this whole ‘list’ thing..it’s another way that society is being led by their noses towards? what? maybe 90 people having more money than the remaining 7 billion on earth today?

    Not a believer in this list,not at all.Be your own leader,stop being led like sheep and take control of your own lives.

  31. says

    I want an uncluttered life because of Jess. I didn’t see Jesus hear. I saw a very self serving need to disconnect and take care of the self and often avoid the reality of how people communicate and how people relate. This list reminds me of the fundamentalist screaming can’t we just recover the dial phone and return to the 50’s. Not a very interest list.

  32. says

    me, me, me=== watch after me and my need for my time and for my way of communication. This list seems to be to be very self-center and not a healthy way to form community unless it is the community of one that seems to be common among many youth today.

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  34. Matthew says

    That is as god a list as any…but what is up with that photo choice. Why is there a creepy picture of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lurking behind some woman on the street? Odd choice.

  35. says

    So if I’m to cancel smartphone notifications does that mean I have to buy one :)

    Heck I often turn my $29 dumb phone off to save power and remember a week later that it’s still off.

  36. Jana says

    For me, it was more radical steps. It was a conscious decision to destroy my cell phone, give away my television, throw out the answering machine, stop turning on the radio, and stop buying newspapers.

    Life instantly becamemuch more peaceful, more relaxed, I began to sleep beter, and I was able to give every aspect of daily life my full attention.

    It’s funny, but now some of my stressed-out friends are considering doing the same thing.

    I’d like to think a quiet revolution is beginning – one where people decide to take control of more than just their time and attention, but their absolute power to stop an insanely materialistic society from worming it’s way into their lives – after all, if you don’t have the gadgets anymore, commercialism can’t reach you to manipulate you.

    So, with no cell phone, no tv, and a big, red sign over my letterbox that says “no junk mail!” (because I’ll charge every company for my time in having to even look at their junk mail if they continue to have them stuffed in my letterbox), life feels a whole lot better.

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