I used to be easily distracted, but I found a solution.
Before I learned how to control my distractions, the smallest things would sidetrack me from writing. For example, the thought, “I need to buy stamps!” would have me off and running.
The first stop would be my to-do list app to add, “Buy stamps.”
Then, I’d probably see another task on the to-do list. Let’s say, “Post to Twitter.” Before I knew it, I’d be on Twitter “knocking that to-do item off my list.” But, let’s be honest. I was really procrastinating, wasting time, and being distracted.
A long while later, I would look up and think, “What am I supposed to be working on and how did I get here?”
Like a train of thought, I often had no idea how I wound up at my destination, but there were many distractions and turns along the way. Sometimes I would go back to my to-do list and immediately remember what I was working on and refocus. Other times I would see something else on my to-do list that I felt needed attention right then. Dishes, laundry, another writing project, whatever, I would tackle it … until I got distracted.
This all added up to five or 10 minutes per project, jumping around, and never focusing on one thing for long enough. It hurt my brain and productivity. I knew I had to stop the distractions if I wanted to work more efficiently and spend less time in front of the computer.
I started looking for time management techniques, but most of them didn’t work because I had a few specific problems:
If I thought of anything that needed to be done, I had to stop what I was doing and record it somewhere. If I didn’t, the thought would nag and distract me. But, if I went to my to-do list, I might get caught in the distraction cycle.
I had to have my current task in front of me — at all times — so I could always easily navigate back to it. Having it on a to-do list with 10 other things didn’t count because the nine things I wasn’t working on would distract me.
Finally, I came up with a solution …
I now keep a notebook next to my mouse pad. Nothing fancy. It’s just a college-ruled spiral notebook. Each day I open it and write the date on the top of the page.
Then, I write down the ONE thing I’m supposed to be working on and highlight it.
If I get distracted, I look at the sheet of paper and refocus. I don’t stop to go to my to-do list, send an email, check on something, or create a reminder for myself. That’s what the bottom of the sheet of paper is for. If I think of an idea or task or anything else, I take just a quick second and jot it down on my paper and refocus. I don’t go to another program or window on my computer.
By jotting the note on paper, I get it out of my head and I don’t have to worry about forgetting it. Plus, the other things on my list don’t get a chance to distract me. This increases productivity and clears my mind for creativity.
Also, if I feel myself getting distracted, I take a quick look at my paper. If I simply try to remember what I’m working on, my mind will come up with all kinds of fun things I’d rather be doing. Instead, I use the paper to make sure I’m constantly working on the single most important thing at the time.
Once my main task is finished, I cross it out. Then, I consult my to-do list and calendar and write down the next most important thing to focus on. I highlight that and repeat the process.
During breaks or at the end of the day, I take my notes from the paper — ideas, thoughts, and reminders — and type them in Evernote, my to-do list, or wherever they make the most sense.
It’s interesting to realize some things wind up not being important at all. But at the time I wrote them down, they felt like a priority and they would have easily distracted me in the past.
This might sound like a simple solution, but sometimes the best solutions are simple. I’m finding out I don’t need an app for everything. Sometimes paper will do just fine.
What types of tasks do you find complicated? Share in the comments below. Then, let’s work together to see if we can streamline them.