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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Everyday is Sunday or is it? – how I manage my work

Being self-employed comes with great freedom; I decide the hours I want to work, and since my work is online I can decide whether I want to work at home, or choose one of the many coffee shops in town – or even go for a nice walk while solving a problem. The backside is that I can work everyday and anytime which means in some ways I am never really off.

Learnt by trial and error I have four rules of thumb that help me manage my work.

1. Get things out of the head
An essential tool for me is to keep lists; to note down what would otherwise take up immense space in my mind. I keep a weekly schedule and daily to-do lists, these are dynamic and I revise them everyday; I update, cross things off and move things around. I use both an old school notebook and my iPhone when things come up; thoughts, emails I want to write, inspiration or to-do’s. I immediately note them down, this helps me keep track of task and ideas – and remain focused on what I am working on.

2. Prioritize
The list of ‘To-dos’, ‘Must-dos’, ‘Want-tos’ and ‘Would-be-nice-to-dos’ is endless when you are self-employed. So I have to prioritize. I look at my list and ask myself, what is most important to achieve at the moment. Which task will help me get there? I put these on the list. I look at what I have to do for my clients. I put these on the list. But the most important thing for me has been to make peace with the fact that I will never finish completely. There will always be more work to do. So it really comes down to focusing on what matters most.

3.Set boundaries
I have learnt that it is crucial to set boundaries: to stop checking emails at some point and to start the day without checking emails as the first thing in the morning. In some ways it is too easy to be online and available all the time, I find that I tend to prioritize work over everything even though I don’t want to. One way I’ve managed to balance my life is by setting hours for work but also to schedule time for exercise, self-care, play, quiet time and time with friends and family.

4. If it only takes five minutes do it now
I’ve experienced that I often feel more overwhelmed about the workload when I’m actually away from the laptop or not workbalanceing. I build up mental tension about all the things I have to do in the near future when I have days away from work  dedicated to my Qi Gong studies, photography or other activities. I realized that by spending 5-15 minutes revising my lists and sending off a couple of emails that are important, I can actually enjoy my time away from work much more.

Managing my time is a constant act of balance that I am (still) learning to master. These four rules of have helped me, I hope they will help you too.