What are some tips that can help people become less distractable in general? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Five years ago, I'm not sure I could have given you a good answer to the question "how do you deal with distraction?". It took facing the fact that I was distracted to lead me down years of research, exploration, and experimentation. At the end of it, I found approaches to tackling this age-old problem that have worked not only for me but are backed by peer-reviewed research studies.
There's a lot of detail in my book behind each of these ideas, but I'll share four strategies for how to think about and deal with distraction, each of which has helped me improve my work life and my home life.
1) Master your internal triggers. You have to get to the root cause of why you're getting distracted. Most often, you're trying to escape discomfort of some kind. You're trying to get away from a variety of "bad" feelings: boredom, loneliness, insecurity, fatigue, uncertainty. The way to gain more control is to explore those bad feelings--trying to find the underlying cause of the distraction in the first place. How do you do that? Begin simply. Write the feeling down. Get curious about it. Literally ask yourself out loud, "I just looked at my phone when I was supposed to writing this report. What was it that made me check my phone? Why did I shift my attention away?" Even just identifying it and calling it out can help. There are many more tactics in my book for what to do after identifying the "internal trigger" to begin to master it.
2) Turn your values into time. It's easy to talk a good game about what's important to you. But if you look at someone's calendar, it can be revealing: the things we say we want to focus on are often things that we don't make time for. So begin by blocking out chunks of time that reflect your values. One example: I block out chunks of time now for my wife and my daughter as well as time for focused work at my desk. It's there, staring at me on the calendar. And during those intervals, nothing else gets scheduled. It seems simple, but it's a big part of defeating distraction. Remember, you can't call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from!
3) Hack back external triggers. We're flooded with distractions, and obviously, those triggers pull us away from what we really want to do. I would argue that the best thing a lot of us can do is to pare down the number of external triggers to only the ones that serve us. To get more concrete, here's a quick four-step process for doing that with one of the devices that gets a good chunk of our attention: your phone. Step 1) Remove the apps you no longer need. You'd be surprised how much this can help. Step 2) Remove apps that you enjoy, but that you can use on your computer instead. Step 3) Rearrange the remaining apps on your phone to reduce visual clutter. Step 4) Adjust your notification settings for each app, to only notify you when you need it most. That's just one example, but there are many that can fit in the bucket of "hacking back"--reclaiming your attention from the things that are fighting for it.
4) Prevent distractions with pacts. Make an agreement with yourself about something you want to do in the future. Ironically, we can prevent tech distraction by using more technology! There are all sorts of tools and apps like Forest, FocusMate, Freedom, Self Control and many others, that can help us prevent us from getting distracted by putting barriers between us and something we don't really want to do.
You will have to test and find what works for you, but for me, these strategies have helped improve my focus, my family life, and my well being. You can win the battle against distraction, and I'm living proof of how it can change your life.
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