Time Management

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

DealWithDistractions

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!)

Healthy Selfishness: How To Stop People-Pleasing and Start Prioritizing Yourself

Chances are, you can name one thing you could be doing to take care better care of yourself. And despite knowing that drinking more water/meditating each day/ flossing your teeth is good for you, I’m willing to bet that you’re still not doing it.

It's likely because:

  1. You don’t have enough time
  2. It’s inconvenient or annoying
  3. The advantages/disadvantages are too far in the future to seem relevant
  4. It tastes/feels like crap
  5. It would involve saying “no” to something or someone else

I often write about issues #1-3 when discussing procrastination, time management, or motivation.

But, today I’m doing a deep dive into issue #5: Setting Boundaries. Or, as I like to call it, “how to say “no” to them and “yes” to me without seeming like a selfish jerkface.”
(And sorry, I can’t do much about Issue #4. Kale will never taste like a cupcake.)

Like most people, I care what people think. I care whether my friends think I’m supportive and I care whether the guy at the bakery judges me when I ask him to write affirmations in icing on the 5” chocolate cake I buy for myself (true story!)

Unlike most people, I’ve accepted and internalized that self-care needs to be my biggest priority. But that wasn’t always true. For most of my life, I put others first only to be surprised when I’d get sick, feel disappointed, burn out, etc. I assumed that I felt sick, tired, or sad because of the job, the boyfriend, or the autoplay feature on Netflix. But, like all things, the common denominator was me. If I wanted to feel balanced and blissful, I was the one that needed to change.

As we all know, change sucks and is never easy.

A lifetime of saying “yes,” people-pleasing, and over-achieving wasn’t going to change overnight. In fact, it was so ingrained in me that I often didn’t even know I was saying “yes” when I really meant “no.” Over time, all of those yeses added up to exhaustion, frustration, and unmet expectations. I struggled to find a way to support others sustainably without compromising my health and happiness.

Once I accepted that I was my biggest obstacle, I started looking at the ways I kept these patterns alive. And that’s when it hit me: I was giving away my time and energy, telling people I had no expectations when I most definitely expected them to reciprocate my actions in the future. I’d tell friends “of course, I don’t mind picking you up from the airport,” only to feel disappointed waiting for a cab in the dead of winter.

If my life is the result of my actions and non-actions, then changing my life is also within my control.

From that moment, I started employing a strategy that changed my life. It empowered me to communicate effectively, transform my relationships, and create more energy, happiness, and time. Here it is:

Is your “yes” really a “no?”

The goal of this exercise is to identify, manage, and communicate your needs so that you’re better able to prioritize yourself.

1. Pause.

Before offering to help, accepting an invitation, or saying “yes,” ask yourself:

  1. Am I prepared to do this without any hope that it will be returned to me in any shape or form (now or in the future?)
  2. What will this cost me now? 6 months from now? (consider your time, energy, and sanity)
  3. Is my desire to say “yes” driven by generosity or because I think that prioritizing myself will result in a negative outcome?

2. Decide.

If you can’t act without expectation, consider the cost.
If the cost is too great, consider your reason.
If your reason is based in fear, consider yourself more.

Simply put, decide whether saying “yes” to them means saying “no” to you. If so, choose to prioritize yourself.

3. Communicate.

State your boundary clearly, directly, respectfully, without qualifying statements or rationales. Saying “I can’t work late on the project today” is more effective than “I can’t work late because my cousin’s friend’s baby is having a birthday party, but I will work on the project when I get home at 10pm.”

4. Maintain.

The other person’s reaction has nothing to do with you. Avoid the temptation to weaken or take back your response. Doing so damages your self-trust, continues to prioritize others, and teaches others that your words have no meaning.

5. Reinforce.

You may need to remind yourself and others of your boundaries. That’s okay! Putting yourself first is a new behavior and will take practice and patience.

Use this tool to ensure you're creating space for yourself, your needs, and your happiness.

One more thing...

I want to hear from you! I’m committed to creating content that address your exact needs. Fill out this quick survey and get the time tracking worksheet only available to Take Back Your Time participants. This worksheet will help you identify your secret time-wasters, giving you the info you need to prioritize yourself more effectively.

6 Actionable Tips To Create More Calm & Clarity Now

This is the time of year when sh*t hits the fan.

The time of year when our family and work responsibilities continue to increase, while the number of days til 2017 seem to count down like a ticking time bomb. For many, December 31st feels like an unconscious deadline for our goals, dreams, and well-intentioned thought spirals: What did I do with my year? Did I make the most of my time? Am I where I want to be?

As if to respond, the world of wellness has no shortage of solutions:

  • Meditation mastermind!
  • Vision board craft-a-palooza!
  • Colon cleanse!

But of all the advice, products, and programs that flood my inbox, the ones that stick out the most are the ones that tell me to, “trust your gut.” Two reasons why: 1) “Gut” reminds me of digestive issues and crime scenes from Law & Order. 2) For chronic over-thinkers (like me) it creates more questions than it answers.

When I'm in panic mode, the last thing I want to do is slow down, tune in, and “trust my gut.” But without that pause, my action plan would be a detailed, actionable, roadmap that leads nowhere. As crazy as it sounds, slowing down is the only way to ensure that we take the right actions that align with who we are and where we want to be.

So, in an effort to help you (and I) avoid the holiday frenzy (and ensuing mental breakdown), here are 6 actionable tips to help you slow down and get through the year with more calm & clarity:

1. Separate your thoughts from your feelings

Thoughts and feelings aren’t the same thing. Sounds obvious, but we often jump from one to another so quickly that it seems impossible to separate. For example, “I can’t believe my dog peed on my Christmas tree!” is a thought (true story!) Your ensuing feelings of frustration toward your dog are…you guessed it: a feeling. Knowing the difference in realtime will help you to gain clarity and avoid spiraling down the rabbit hole o’ stress. From there, you’ll be in a better state to take the next right action.

2. Focus on how you want to feel (not what you want to accomplish)

The goal of any goal is the feeling it gives you. For example, wanting to have $1 million isn’t about the cash or what you can buy with it, rather the feeling that those things will give you (whether it’s the joy of buying a unicorn onesie for yourself or the joy of spending it on others).

Instead of waiting to accomplish your goal to get that sensation, why not cut out the middle man and give yourself permission to feel amazing now. You have access to those emotions any time, any place. So, focus on ways you can cultivate those feelings here and now.

3. Do less to do more

Productivity isn’t about how much you do, it’s about doing the right things in the right order.  Take a good, hard, look at your “To-Do” List and ask yourself what’s important and what’s urgent. Often, you’ll find that much of what you’re spending your time on only seems important because it’s urgent. Give yourself permission to move things from your “To Do” List to your “To Don’t” List and only take action on what truly matters to you.

4. Say “no”

No to parties, no to secret Santa, no to anything that feels like a burden. “Obligation” is a fancy word for self-inflicted stress. Silence all the “shoulds,” “it’s safer tos,” and “common sense” that you’ve created. Instead, say “no” kindly and directly. Your future self will thank you.

5. Select one small act of self-care

Now is NOT the time for a major life overhaul. Set yourself up for success by picking one, tiny, act of self-care that you can consistently incorporate into your day. For example, drinking 8 glasses of water, not eating lunch at your desk, or allowing yourself an afternoon candy binge. (No judgments!)

6. Be okay with not being okay

The holidays can suck. That’s okay! Trust that you’ve gotten through similar obstacles before and can do it again. The more you resist the inherent stress of the holidays and wish things to be different, the worse you’ll feel. Instead, remind yourself that “this, too, shall pass” and a fresh start is right around the corner!