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Dealing With Distractions You Can’t Prevent

Strategies and goals

Two kids

This series of articles on distraction is adapted from my eBook on Writing Motivation. In previous articles, I’ve talked about the high cost of distractions and four tactics for reducing them: choosing location in one article and managing responsibilities, devising rules, and erecting barriers in another. This final article in the series covers the question of what to do when distractions can’t be prevented.

Distractions as opportunities
If an interruption makes it through despite your plans, you can sometimes turn it to your advantage. Once the distraction is taken care of, take a moment to figure out if there are any other distractions in the making—an impending bathroom break, a family member who just needs a minute of your time, that cup of tea you’ve been wanting—and take care of them in your post-distraction time rather than letting them spawn their own interruptions a little down the road.

An interruption can also be a useful moment to reflect on the direction the project is going, how happy you are with your progress, whether you have any nagging concerns you want to examine, and whether there are other steps you should consider, such as reviewing your work so far, brainstorming alternatives, or getting help.

Distraction pitfalls
However, it’s essential not to use interruptions as excuses to get off track. It’s generally a bad idea to decide that because you’ve been interrupted anyway, you might as well check your e-mail, fold a few of those clothes, or call to check in on a friend. If those activities really have priority, this is fine, but it’s easy for such things to serve as excuses to not get back to working on your goal after being temporarily diverted. Don’t fall into that particular trap.

Be sure not to use the possibility (or inevitability) of distractions as an excuse to skip working on your goal. Of course it’s more efficient to get things done when there are no distractions, but not only is some progress better than no progress, but the more you get used to making progress despite distractions, the better you’ll get at ignoring those distractions.

Responding to distractions
In responding to distractions, especially when frustration builds, it helps to have a planned response you can fall back on. This connects with some ideas discussed under the managing responsibilities topic. Having preset wording helps prevent frustration from determining your wording for you, and can help remind you of how to deal with the distractions. It can also minimize the effort (and attention) you need to invest in the distraction and sometimes provide a way to head the distraction off or cut it short.

Learning from distractions
If distractions teach you nothing else, they can often at least supply information about how to avoid them in the future. If you experience a lot of distractions or have the sense that some could be avoided with better organization, trying jotting down a list of distractions as they occur (after all, you’re already distracted) and then reviewing it in the near future to come up with ideas for heading those distractions off.

Photo by Shermeee

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