Happy Friday, everyone! In Wednesday's post about the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, I mentioned that I would be implementing some things to use what I learned from both Essentialism and Deep Work by Cal Newport. So that's what today's post is about. And though this is my personal plan for what I think will help me, hopefully, you'll also find something things that might work for you.
That's what nice about the concepts in these books. They're not so specific that they can't be customized. We ALL feel too busy. We ALL would like to spend time doing things that are more meaningful and essential to our lives, job, family, etc. I would venture to say most of us feel overwhelmed by technology and the noise of modern life. And when you really take a hard look at it, you see the things you are giving up because you're glued to your computer or phone. And it's not just during work time. For me, it even leaks into my personal leisure time. If I'm focused on my phone, I end up with less reading time, less time to watch TV shows, less family time, etc. No bueno.
So here's my plan for the next month (a month in which I have a NaNoWriMo style goal of writing about 50k words.)
7 Things to Reduce Distraction and Increase Focus
1. Putting a leash on social media
It may be Facebook for you or YouTube or Instagram, but for me, Twitter is where the tempting coffee pot/watercooler is in my "workplace". I don't have co-workers to chat with in person, so it's where I go to catch up. It's what I often see first when I sit down at my desk--the big wide screen of Tweetdeck with all the columns and barrage of tweets. In some ways it makes sense that I go there. If I were working in an office, I would take a few minutes to ease into the day by catching up with people at work and drinking my coffee. However, the problem with Twitter is that it's never a five-minute conversation. It's links and today's drama and cat pictures and before I know it, thirty minutes have passed or longer. And now I have all these interesting articles to read. Plus, instead of easing into my day, it's like I've started standing in the middle of Times Square. SO. MUCH. NOISE.
Action item: Pop in to twitter on my phone where I can only see who directly talked to me so I can respond, but don't look at the feed until my lunch break or after my writing is done for the day.
2. Blocking off internet-free time with the Hey Focus app.
I've been using Hey Focus for a while, but I was just using the 1 hour timer it has built in. I didn't realize that I could set up a schedule for it to block social media/the web at set times each day automatically. This is a great feature because a) I don't have to remember to click for focus time b) it requires no willpower because it's automatic and c) will get me in the habit of knowing exactly when my "deep work" time is.
Note: you can whitelist certain apps and websites if you need them during your deep work time. But I'm not whitelisting anything but music. Even research can distract me (What kind of car should the heroine drive? What would have been on the radio in this flashback scene in 2005?) You click for research and then you fall into a web rabbit hole of something else. I can just make a note and look that up after deep work time.
Action item: Automatic internet blocking from noon to 3pm every day for deep work/writing time.
3. Meditate before going into the Deep Work zone.
Research has shown that our mind is like our muscles. If we don't use our ability to focus, we lose it. We have to actively work with concentration in order to improve it. I know without a doubt that my ability to focus has decreased over the last few years. Maybe it's all the technology, maybe it's age, maybe it's how my career has changed, maybe a little of all. But the girl who used to consider herself laser-focused to the point of obsession at times has started wondering if she has ADD. That's...concerning.
So if our focus is like a muscle, then mine hasn't been to the gym in a while. And one of the proven ways to to strengthen that muscle is through mindful meditation. I have a little experience with this because I used to regularly do yoga (something I need to get back to), but it doesn't have to involve movement. Studies have shown that even 8 minutes of daily mediation can help.
Now, that doesn't sound like much, but try it. I did a ten minute meditation with the Calm app this morning and it was HARD to sit still and be quiet and focus on breath for just a few minutes. Even with the lovely sound and view of crashing waves, I had to fight to keep focused--which tells me that I definitely need to keep doing it.
Action plan: Meditate for at least 10 minutes every week day with the Calm app.
4. Cocooning and setting limits
This goes along with the Deep Work and turning off the internet, but it's also important to set up expectations with others. You're not available during that deep work time unless it's an emergency. You are out of reach. The world can survive without you for a few hours. There's a great post over at Penelope Loves List about how to set up your Cocoon of Focus.
Action plan: Turn off my notifications except for kidlet's school and hubs and don't let others encroach on the cocoon of focus.
5. Keeping my To Do list to the essentials
I talked about this on Wednesday, but I'm learning the art of saying no to things that aren't essential to my goals (both at work and home.) Busy work can be a sneaky time stealer. You feel like you're doing something so you're "working", but you're not actually getting the things done that are important. It's just another distraction. (Like when I inevitably decide that I MUST clean my office before writing that day, lol.) Y'all know I'm in love with my paper planners and this is the perfect way to make sure my To Do list is pared down to the essential bones.
Action plan: Say no to the non-essential things that try to sneak on to my To Do list.
6. Tracking my time
And speaking of planners, I'm still using a two planner system, which I've talked about before. The Inkwell Press (photo above) is where my weekly and monthly plans live. It's what I ideally plan to do that week. Life isn't ideal. And plans are easily derailed. So I've used my Day Designer, which is a daily planner to not do future planning but to track my time as I go. That way, I can see what I planned to do (Inkwell Press) and what I actually did (Day Designer). This helps me see where I'm wasting time, how much time a task actually takes (because we all tend to underestimate that), and keeps me accountable.
Action plan: Use the Day Designer to track my time as I go so that I can see where all the time/energy is going.
7. Putting my phone away in the evenings
I have too many books to read, TV series I haven't seen, movies I haven't watched, games I haven't played to sit on the couch with my phone at night.
Action Plan: Put the phone out of reach at night because even if I am watching or reading something, the temptation to "just check" is too strong.
So those are my seven things for the month of October (though I've been implementing some already). I'll be sure to report back on how it goes. I know for sure it's not going to be easy. Breaking habits is incredibly hard and the internet's hold on us is legit. But I'm determined and nothing makes me more motivated then when I get mad about something. And I'm mad that things are stealing my time. ;)
So you tell me, am I the only one struggling with this? Have you tried anything to reduce distractions and increase focus? Anything work well for you?