The Art of Eliminating Distractions

I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to staying focused. On bad days it’s like I almost invite every possible form of distraction to come my way. I purposely go on facebook every other moment, I counter attack my rational mind that tells me not to press on that link and get back to the task on my list. And as my day passes I get more and more dissatisfied with myself and my lack of self-discipline.

Being self-employed and having chosen a lifestyle, where I don’t wish or need to work fulltime, I potentially have time for many other activities than my work. However, if I let myself get distracted constantly then my work hours are stretched, and I end up sitting the whole day in front of my laptop instead of just the hours that I am actually working. It is utterly dissatisfying, and I really don’t have anyone to blame but myself.

Recently I have tried to work consciously to change these patterns of self-sabotage and the main thing I have worked on is my own approach and mindset:

I found that the core thing is to consciously make a decision to stick with the schedule that I set up for my day – to really commit to stay away from distractions (easier said than done!). I need to tap into a deeper level of awareness so that whenever I see myself being pulled by an impulse or urge to look something up, text a friend, watch that youtube clip someone sent me etc., I don’t follow that urge. Instead I notice it and write it down on a piece of paper (if it’s something I actually want to do later), and then the impulse slowly fades away since I don’t act upon it. Cultivating such discipline and self-awareness is really the key element to staying focused and not letting just any kind of desire lead you.

In the practice of eliminating distractions and cultivating focus I found four things that helped me as well:

Putting the phone on airplane mode
My main distractions come from the internet – and especially from my smartphone, since I don’t get email notifications, messages or alerts on my laptop. By putting the phone on airplane mode I can to limit the noise that interrupts me while working.

Setting the timer
I set the timer to 25 minutes and commit to work on my tasks for that amount of time. It is much easier to commit for a short time like that than to set yourself up to not getting distracted for – say – 4 hours.

Making clear distinctions between work-mode and break-mode
The brain needs breaks to be able to work well. On bad days my breaks just consist on reading something random on the internet. I make an effort to intentionally do something completely different in even a 5-minute break. I play a song aloud and sing along, I go out on the balcony and breathe deeply, I shake my body or go for a short walk around the house enjoying the air and sounds of the world.

Breaking the day into shorter slots
If I have a long work day ahead, and I haven’t scheduled in any other activities, the outlook of almost unlimited time makes me more prone to invite distractions into the day. If I make sure to change locations during the day, go out for lunch, schedule an appointment or skype meeting in the middle of the day, then I am more motivated to stay focused.

How do you practice the challenging art of eliminating distractions?

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5 ways to work with the flow

I was supposed to sit on an airplane right now and spend the whole day travelling. I don’t. They cancelled my flight and instead I’m on the balcony in my house. Nobody knows yet. I will fly all night instead so it feels like I have been given an extra day in life.

I could have been upset about the fact that I had to change my connecting flight, that I was arriving a day later, that I had to write my clients about a sudden change in work availability. It wouldn’t have made any difference about the actual situation, but somehow we often get stuck in negative and unfruitful reactions to things that happen to us, and spend a lot of energy on something we can’t change anyway. Once you realize that it really doesn’t change anything, it seems like such a waste of time.

The situation got me thinking about how working with the flow of things helps me keep a more balanced state of mind in everything I do – but especially when it comes to my professional work.

Working with clients – and with people in general – demands you to let go of control. This could potentially stress me out a lot. When I was younger I would often create a huge amount of mental stress by obsessing about the outcome of my efforts. So much that I would often feel paralyzed in my actions because I was too afraid of something going wrong or things not working out exactly as I envisioned them. I have become much more aware of these obsessive patterns and how they don’t serve me, but sometimes they still show up.

waterfallThe other day I went on a daytrip to a waterfall with a friend, I was mesmerized by how graceful the water moves. It always makes its way, but doesn’t try to penetrate or move the obstacles on its path. And that is exactly why it can be soft and still keep going with an innate power and drive.

My friend and I are both self employed and we talked about how to work with clients, be successful in what we do and enjoy our work. “I’ve heard the key is to work towards a goal without being too attached to the outcome” I told him. Sounds right, but how do you actually do that? We asked ourselves.

A big part of it is to let go of wanting to control everything.

Here are five ways you can try to work with the flow and not against it:

Let go of what you can’t change
Use what is given to you
Work with great discipline but be flexible
Respond constructively to the situations that arise
Use the circumstances that inspire you to fuel your work