Can't Focus? The 5 Stupid-Simple Tricks To Deal With Distractions


Since I get various forms of this question emailed to me each week, I thought I’d share (with permission, of course)

Dear Amita,

Help! I want to be productive, but I keep getting distracted. I check my email and suddenly an hour’s passed and all I have to show for it is a million open browser tabs (with articles I’ll probably never read), screenshots of memes, and a half-written email. What can I do to stay focused and actually get shit done?

-Cara, Florida*

Cara, you're not alone.

The black hole of the Internet has sucked the life (and hours) out of all of us. While you can’t make the World Wide Web disappear, you can take a few precautionary steps to stop getting caught in it. Let’s break down your question:

1. Define Productivity

When you say you want to be “productive,” what does that really mean? Most people sit at their desk thinking “it's time to do work” without any real action plan for what they’ll get done. It’s easy to distract ourselves or avoid starting an unknown, undefined, or unwanted task. Simply put, No plan = No work.  

2. Limit your Email

Checking email isn’t the same as working. Sure, it feels like work, but it doesn’t equate to productivity. The click-bait headlines tempting us to waste time/money is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is the false sense of direction our inbox provides. We see an unread message and think we need to take action, forcing us to sacrifice our priorities. Inadvertently, we address the urgent rather than the important. To combat this, only check your email after you’ve created your plan. Then, close/silence your email and adjust your plan only if absolutely necessary.

3. Shut it Down

Open tabs are distracting and overwhelming. Instead, bookmark them or copy the link to a document/virtual post it. Then, close down all tabs you aren't ACTIVELY using.

4. Live a Little

Memes are hilarious and oddly empathetic to the human experience. Make time for breaks. You’re a human, not a robot.

5. Break it Up

One of the many reasons we feel overwhelmed is because we add things to our To-Do list rather than taking immediate action.  This was a major pitfall for me until I began using the 2-minute rule: If a task (or email, in your case) takes less than 2 minutes, don’t push it off. Act now! If it takes longer or feels intimidating, break it down into bite-sized, actionable items. Not only will it be easier to start tasks and take consistent action, you’ll feel less stressed and more motivated.

If you spend more time on distractions than you do on work, check out these psychology-backed tweaks to jumpstart your focus and productivity. 

(I post this cheat sheet above my desk…just in case!)

How To Be Consistently Consistent: My Weird, Unconventional Trick to Kick Ass Across the Board

My goal is to put myself out of business.

As an entrepreneur, that’s idiotic.

As a coach/soon-to-be-therapist, that makes me effective.

When I work with clients, the last thing I want is for them to become dependent on me. Instead, we solve a problem together and go over the exact steps that led to their success. That way, they can replicate it on their own the next time they feel stuck. 

Whether it's finding a career that's motivating, a partner that's loving, or a system to stop procrastinating, most of us are great at figuring out what isn't working, but we fail to notice what's working well.

Why does that matter?

No, I'm not going to go on a tirade about awareness and gratitude (though those are both valid and on the docket for future posts). This is about figuring out your recipe for success. And that brings me to todays' topic:

How to reverse-engineer what's working so you Get Consistent Results:  

Good News, Bad News, Better News.

Let’s start with the good news: When you figure out how to outsmart yourself, you won’t have the same problem again.

Bad news: Once you solve your problem, you'll probably make new mistakes or have new problems. (I know, sucks to be human!)

Better news: The same system to solve that first problem can be used across the board. In all areas. No matter what.

All you need to get started is to ignore your problem.

What now? How’s that possible?

One of the (many) differences between “traditional” therapy and the work I do is that I focus on what’s working. Sounds counter-intuitive, but the key to fixing what isn’t working is to start with what's working well and reverse-engineer it.

To be honest,  I’m not the coach for everyone. If you want to spend your time bitching about what’s not working, why life sucks, and why everyone else is to blame, we're not a good fit. Partly because that’s a downer and I don’t want to hear it, but more than that, it’s because that isn’t going to fix shit.

While this approach is highly effective, it’s also surprisingly difficult for most people. (I get it, if we could see our blind spots, they wouldn’t be “blind” spots.)

Here’s How It Typically Goes:

Amita: What are the things in your life that don’t require excess amounts of motivation or “self-discipline?” In other words, what comes naturally without pushing yourself?

Client: I procrastinate on most things, but I usually manage to exercise consistently without needing reminders. But that’s completely different, it doesn’t really count.

Amita: Why doesn’t it count?

Client: That isn’t “productive.” I just do it because it makes me feel good and I like being in shape. That’s not as important as my career though, that's where I need help.

Amita: Well a lot of things feel good. Like warm baths, new socks, or mind-blowing sex. But those things don’t really require the same amount of innate motivation that helps you to work out. So, what makes this different?

Client: It’s important to me. But so is my writing career. (Dramatic Sigh)

Amita: Since exercise is something you value, you’re willing to invest time and energy into it. So how does working out look different in your life than the actions you’re taking in your writing career? What does your workout habit actually look like?

Client: Well, I know when I get home from work that I'll go to the gym with my friend. And I’m motivated because I see results so I keep doing it. But who cares if that’s going well?! My career is way more important and I’m not getting anywhere!

Amita: Well, let’s look at your process. Your recipe for success at the gym is 1) Scheduling it in as a predictable part of your routine 2) Accountability 3) A social component that helps you feel connected 4) Results that motivate you to continue. Does that sound right?

Client: Yes, I didn't realize I do all that!

Amita: Most of us don't notice or question the things that work well in our lives. We put our energy into focusing on what's wrong, not what's right. Let’s draw from that and make your writing routine mirror your exercise routine.

The conversation continued with only a small amount of teeth-pulling to include that he would:

  • Add in 20 minutes of writing each morning before going to work (even if all he wrote was that he was pissed at me for making him do it!)
  • Check in once per week with his action partner on any new steps or new content he created. 
  • Meet weekly with a friend in a similar field to write and bounce ideas off each other.
  • Start submitting his articles to websites to see new results to encourage momentum.

I should note that my clients aren’t as whiny or irritating as this conversation came off.  They are inspiring, motivating, and above all else, they are committed to creating real change.

Figure Out Your Strategy For Success:

When you’re at your best, what are the processes that make you successful? Drill down on the answers by reflecting on the moments when you’re motivated to accomplish your goals:

  1. What are you doing differently?
  2. What are you focusing on?
  3. What actions are you taking?

In other words, what’s your recipe for success? Is it knowing when to take action? Is it going to a specific place? Is it having an accountability partner? Is it having a compelling or motivating reason? Whatever it is…

Decode it. Translate it. Do it. 

The 12 Habits of the Truly Successful

Most people define success by the dollar amount in their bank account. And while money provides a certain amount of security and peace of mind, we often confuse that feeling of safety for success. From an evolutionary standpoint, the absence of financial fear is tied to our instinct to survive. Since we unconsciously view money as the factor that determines whether we live or die, it’s no wonder we’re unhappy, stressed, and constantly focusing on what we don’t have. The good news is that we’ve evolved far beyond our lizard brain. If you’re looking to thrive instead of survive, it’s time to redefine the term, “success” on your own terms.

I’ve been coaching clients for years and I’ve noticed that those who define success on their own terms are not only the happiest people I know, they are the wealthiest across all dimensions (finances included!) If you’re ready to create more joy, success, and abundance in your life, check out how the truly successful incorporate these 12 habits:

1. The truly successful have a positive mental attitude. This doesn’t mean they sugarcoat or deny their problems. Instead, they habitually focus on what they want, not what they’re trying to avoid. It’s the difference between “I take steps to create a thriving business which energizes me and serves others” and “I work so I don’t lose my home.”

Try it: When you notice yourself focusing on lack, reframe your internal dialogue to focus on what you want. Ultimately, what you say is what you’ll see.


2. The successful take steps to create sound physical and mental health. While illness and disease impact us to varying degrees, the successful don’t define themselves by their limitations. Instead, they take action to change what they can. After all, your health is your wealth and can’t be bought.

Try it: Incorporate daily self-care practices that sustain health (ex. drinking water, exercising, connecting with yourself, etc.)


3. The quality of our lives is a direct reflection of the quality of our relationships. The happiest and most successful individuals actively work to create harmony in their relationships by learning to be the best friend, partner, and family member they can be.

Try it: Take responsibility for what you bring to the relationship. You can’t change others, but you can change yourself. Click here to get your free cheat sheet.


4. Moments of transition, change, and discomfort give rise to our greatest growth. The successful embrace these times rather than avoiding them. While fear and doubt may continue to exist, the successful adapt and stretch their limits to create more freedom.

Try it: Don’t wait until you’re “in the mood” or “ready” for change. Acknowledge your fear and act anyway.


5. The truly successful look ahead, not behind. They focus on what they’ll create, not on the circumstances that brought them to this point. 

Try it: Identify and focus on one goal. Whether it’s a project, vacation, or a skill you want to hone, focus your thoughts, energy, and actions on how it feels to get closer to something that matters to you.


6. The successful have an internal belief that they are capable of accomplishing any goal. They have faith that if they set their mind to something, they’ll find a way. It’s the reason I love Marie Forleo’s phrase, “Everything is figureoutable.” This shift in mindset is the key difference between dreamers and do-ers.

Try it: Create a fearlessness list: List the times you’ve felt you couldn’t achieve something, but persevered anyway. Then, ask yourself if what you’re feeling now resembles how you felt in those moments. If so, remind yourself that you conquered self-doubt in challenging situations before and you can do it again. Take action and then add your new win to the list.


7. Abundance is less about what you have, and more about what you give. The successful are willing to share their gifts and talents with others. Whether it’s by volunteering, mentoring, or supporting loved ones, you can always give even when you don’t have money.

Try it: Cultivate an attitude of gratitude by sharing your abundance with those around you. Not only will you feel good, your mindset will shift, helping you to create more of what you do want and less of what you don’t.


8. One-third of my coaching practice focuses on helping clients find a labor of love, a way to simultaneously make a difference in the world, their lives, (and their bank account). The reason most people stay stuck in this area is because they don’t know what’s possible. Most accept the unwritten “rule” that work=unhappiness. The truly successful are willing to challenge their preconceived notions, creating space for creativity and resourcefulness.

Try it: If you already love what you do, great! Find a project or hobby you truly enjoy putting your time and energy into. If you’re still trying to figure it out, it’s time to get out of your head. Write down what your ideal day would look like. Ignore any preconceived notions: Would you work outside? Would you wake up at noon? What kind of people would you interact with? The first step to create what you want is to figure out what you want. Brainstorm with a friend or coach to help you get outside your head and into your heart (as cheesy as that sounds!)


9. Only the young and foolish think they know everything. The smartest and most successful know there is always more to learn. They have an open mind on all subjects. The successful are willing to hear others’ opinions even if they don’t agree.

Try it: When listening to someone you disagree with, most of us zone out and mentally prepare our rebuttal. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from the interaction. Appreciating another’s worldview opens us up to new ideas. After all, if we continued to put more effort into rigidity than flexibility, we’d still think the world is flat.


10. The truly successful are motivated by pleasure, not pain. They are tapped into what lights them up, no matter the goal. It's the difference between being taking action to feel the joy of achieving your goal and taking action to avoid the pain of a missed deadline. Many people think that being motivated by discomfort or their inner critic propels them forward. That type of motivation may temporarily push you, but it prevents you from taking the actions that make you a game-changer. Resourcefulness, creativity, and aligned action come easier to those who are moving toward what they want instead of running away from what they don’t.

Try it: The next time you’re struggling to take action, focus on how good you’ll feel once you achieve your goal. Use this free worksheet to guide you.


11. Empathy is what separates leaders from dictators. The successful know that their greatest source of strength is their ability to tap into their human side and relate to others in an honest, genuine, and vulnerable way. Simply put, the successful look to connect & commend rather than compare & compete.

Try it: In moments when you feel compelled to compare, look for opportunities to serve others. Not only will this help you to focus on your strengths, it will shift your mindset to gratitude and abundance. This, in turn, will lead to greater success.


12. The truly successful don’t find time, they make time. They know that the key to having more success, freedom, and energy lies in their ability to create systems that work for them, not against them. Rather than putting out one fire after another, they learn from their mistakes and anticipate challenges moving forward. Whether it’s procrastination, home organization, or go-to strategies to avoid distractions, the successful are proactive, not reactive.

Try it: None of us were taught time-management skills in school. It’s time to learn and create these systems now. Rather than being at the mercy of your ever-growing “To-do” list, take one hour each week to plan, organize, and prioritize. This may seem like a lot when you’re already crunched for time, but investing one hour each week will save you thousands of hours (and dollars) each year.


Want to learn the step-by-step system the truly successful use to stop procrastinating, start prioritizing, and create extra hours each day? Download the newest system - it's free!