When I used to think of the word “distraction,” I would think of my phone ringing while I was in the middle of a conversation with a friend or a loud noise coming from a construction site in my neighborhood when trying to write… basically things that were “outside” that were interfering or pulling me away from whatever I was doing at the time…
But I recently realized the distractions were no longer coming from a source “out there,” but more likely were coming from within. I find myself getting distracted at home by my own stuff and even worse, getting distracted from my own thoughts, by another one of my thoughts! Sitting on my couch I look around to see my laptop, remote control, and phone all within arm’s reach. I can talk on the phone, watch television, and work on my computer at once—multi-tasking has become second nature and our minds are often racing to what’s next. With so many tools and gadgets available to help us multi-task, I wonder if I have forgotten how to focus on one thing at time. It feels as though it’s becoming more and more difficult to simply be in the moment.
I decided to be more conscious of my thoughts and behavior. What was I spending time thinking about and doing? What qualified as a distraction? What were the thoughts and actions that really were important to me that the distractions were pulling me away from? For me, the answers were quite revealing.
What if you were to just focus on what really matters? Take a moment to think about what’s truly important to you. Then consider what life would be like if you stripped away everything that was not in alignment with those goals. Pare down your activities to just a few top priorities and stop over-scheduling and over-committing to everything else.
Tips for eliminating the distractions:
Prioritize: The truth is it’s hard to do it all, and sometimes simply impractical—at least in a way that’s healthy and enjoyable. It can actually be quite liberating to acknowledge that there are limits to our energy, time, and choices. Let go of the idea that you need to do it all and get clear about what really matters to you. It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day tasks and lose perspective of the big picture. When we’re not clear about our larger vision for ourselves, the day-to-day can take over and we never move toward more meaningful goals or make the changes necessary to have a more fulfilling life. We cannot prioritize and make choices about what is important if we first don’t take the time to get clear about what is essential in our lives. When we are clear, it is easy to avoid getting distracted or over-scheduling because we simply do not choose those things that are not in alignment with our goals.
Learn to say no: Of course, saying yes to what we do want often involves saying no to those things that are not in alignment with what is essential. Personally, I would rather do a few things well then lots of things poorly. And it’s okay to say no, to turn down an invitation, and to put yourself first. This is a tough one for a lot of people as it often feels selfish. Of course you’re not always going to put yourself first or be able to, but by considering and prioritizing your needs, you will be happier and therefore more available and helpful when you need to be present for someone else. In the past I’ve found myself jumping through hoops to accommodate other people, just to learn what they asked of me wasn’t all that important to them in the first place. Be clear about what’s important to you and the decision about what to say no to and what to say yes to becomes very clear…. i.e. if family and loved ones are on the top of your list, then saying no to that weekend work event and ignoring that phone call during dinner, are easy choices.
Build in time to decompress: Sometimes before we can really focus on one thing, we need to emotionally and mentally shift gears. Running straight from an intense meeting to a dinner with a significant other is not necessarily a good foundation for a romantic night. Piling in twenty errands and then racing back home to have quality time with kids usually doesn’t lead to a focused, fun time. Sometimes we need to release the energy of our previous experience. Give yourself a moment to breathe and shift gears so you can really enjoy and be present for the next event. Occasionally we will need to multi-task, but it can be difficult to transition out of multi-tasking mode once we start. So next time you’re about to transition from one event to the next, take a minute to take a breath, assimilate what you just experienced, then let it go. Then take another minute to think about what you are about to do so you can be fully present for the next event. This only takes a moment and I find helps me enjoy the time more.
Clear the Clutter and Create Empty Space: Our stuff not only takes up space, but requires our energy and attention. Clearing the clutter in our home and office, helps us have a clearer mind and remain more focused on the task at hand. Just imagine the difference when working at a desk covered with papers compared to a desk with nothing but a computer or notepad. If you’re easily distracted or want to give your mind a break, reduce your stuff to just the essentials or things that are really important to you—cut down on pictures, magazines, gadgets and create some empty space. For help clearing clutter, check out Our Guide to Clutter Clearing. And although your cell phone isn’t technically clutter, probably a lot of the emails you receive and even texts and calls are clutter—when you’re trying to be present in the moment, turn off your ringer or better yet leave your phone in your purse or in the car! Nothing is more distracting than a phone flashing or beeping when you’re trying to focus. And if you’re having trouble sleeping, try getting rid of the distractions in the bedroom by creating a serene space. These days bedrooms are often multi-tasking as home offices, media centers, and exercise rooms—none of which are conducive to a good night’s sleep. Get rid of anything that’s not supporting sleep and romance.