This series of articles on distraction is adapted from my eBook on Writing Motivation. In the first article in the series, I talked about the high cost of distractions and mentioned four things we can do to minimize them. The second article delved into how location choice can help prevent distractions. The next article will consider some ways to deal with distractions that can’t be prevented, while this one covers three prevention tactics: managing responsibilities, devising rules, and erecting barriers.
Managing responsibilities means using planning and negotiation to minimize interruptions. If you want to set aside time every night from 9:00 to 10:00, tell everyone you know that you’re busy during that time and would appreciate no phone calls or spur-of-the-moment visits. If you’re a parent and have a spouse or partner, offer to take full responsibility for the kids during certain periods in exchange for your spouse doing the same thing during your pre-arranged work times. Almost anyone who might either interrupt you or be a means to head off interruptions is a good person to negotiate with to help keep these times undisturbed.
Managing responsibilities may also mean finding ways to keep yourself from being distracted by other obligations. In my interview with her, writer and entrepreneur Nancy Fulda talks about the effectiveness of taking care of small, nagging tasks before tackling the larger, more consuming ones: “The problem with that was that all those unfinished tasks weighed on my mind. It was like a mountain of work hanging over me, this big dreadful pile of Things That Needed Done, and it sapped my energy like a vampire … The thing is, that huge dreadful mountain tasks seldom took more than an hour to complete.”
Devising rules means thinking about possible interruptions and coming up with solutions to head them off before you even get started. The resulting solutions are ones you can adhere to without thinking, for instance “Never answer the phone while practicing” or “When decluttering, never stop to read anything: instead, put anything of real interest aside in a ‘to read’ pile.” Rules have to be clearly planned so that there is no thinking involved. If one of your rules is not to open your e-mail program while you’re working on your finances or not to watch TV until your housework is done, then you’ll know that you’ll need to be strict about those rules in order for them to work. When you have preplanned responses like this, dealing with the situations you’ve anticipated does not take a large amount of attention, and therefore doesn’t require the wholesale reorganization of thoughts a full-fledged distraction would have forced.
My article on the value of rules in motivation is here .
Erecting barriers means taking physical steps to guard your work area from interruptions: a sign on the door saying “Please come back after 2:30 PM,” unplugging your phone or your network cable, putting on music that you work well to, and using earplugs are all ways to use barriers to temporarily shield your environment from the infinite distractions of the outside world.
Photo by mahalie