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!)

Don't Know What Makes You Happy? Here's Where To Start

Aligned Holistics

I recently had a client contact me wanting to attain “sustainable happiness,” a notion that’s been perpetuated by self-help books, crystal-pedaling hippies, and Prozac commercials.  Humans were not intended to be happy all the time.  Or to be sad all the time.  Or to watch more than one season of a show on Netflix at a time.  We are creatures who need contrast. We can’t appreciate the light without the dark, the Oreo without the cream filling.  But since debating the nature of happiness doesn’t make for a good first impression, I asked her, “What brings you joy?”  Silence.  She had no idea.

I could empathize.  I was once in her place, living in sweatpants, eating junk food, and dating crappy men. The point is, I had no idea what made me happy either.  I was so focused on being happy all the time that I barely noticed what made me happy when I was. And that’s exactly why I was unhappy.

The truth is that it’s freakin’ hard to say what makes us happy, but in the moment, when we feel true bliss, we’re able to pinpoint with certainty the exact thing that changed our state. It could be ice cream on a hot day, puppy cuddles after a bad date, or finally feeling the AC when you’re stuck on the subway.

But if you’re a vegan, a cat-lover, or chronically cold, don’t despair! There’s an easy solution to your pleasure puzzle.

Ready for it?

Next time something good happens, stop and actually appreciate it. Sounds ridiculously simple? In theory, yes. In reality, no.

How Savoring Works:

Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12% more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives.
— David Niven

As I’m writing this, I had to turn my wifi off. Why? Because I’ve been conditioned to be a multitasking machine. Among my favorite distracting tasks (including, but not limited to making Spotify playlists, picking at my split-ends, and texting friends), is the incessant checking of Facebook. I don’t enjoy it, I’m like a mosquito drawn to a bug zapper. Even writing outside, an activity that gives me peace and clarity is greatly diminished. Why? Because the less I notice any one thing, the less I am able to enjoy anything.

So what happens when I go off the grid and savor a moment? I notice the nuances: the sights, sounds, and smells that make writing outside feel amazing. Every time we savor, we’re making a deposit into our happiness account. It all adds up. As David Niven notes, "Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12% more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives." The truth is that we see what we look for. Practice savoring and you’ll be conditioned to notice the things that make you happy and not just the crap that brings you down. I

So How Exactly Does One Savor?

1. Slow the F*ck down.

That means turn off the TV while you eat. Don’t watch football online when you’re on a Skype date with your girlfriend (Yes, I’m still pissed about that!) The old adage “stop and smell the roses” is backed up by research in positive psychology.

2. Get grateful.

It’s easy to focus on the negative. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. It helps us to identify a problem and takes steps to solve it. When dialed up too high, this strength becomes a weakness, forcing us to only see what isn’t working in life. Instead, notice what’s going right by writing a gratitude list. Not only will this improve your mood in the moment, you’ll rewire your brain to be happier more often.

3. Celebrate your wins.

It’s easy to ignore both our small victories and big accomplishments. We’re great at supporting others, but bad at rewarding ourselves. Rather than waiting to achieve an outcome, start savoring the steps you’re taking by celebrating the mini-milestones. Don’t feel like you deserve it? How would you respond to a friend who told you she didn't deserve to celebrate her accomplishment? Simply put, take a vacation, book a massage, buy the shoes.

4. Don’t dump on others.

When asked “How was your day?" most of us are tempted to launch into a tirade of “Chad’s” obnoxious behavior, insane traffic, or some other negative experience. There’s a time and place to vent, and it shouldn’t always be on your partner. Sharing positive experiences and accomplishments will increase your happiness and strengthen your relationship.

5. Control the conflict.

Sounds counter-intuitive, but savoring helps you to keep cool during a conflict. If you’ve ever felt angry and thought “I love you, but I can’t stand you right now!” then you know how hard it is to have a productive conversation when pissed. When we’re angry, our focus narrows onto the other person’s perceived failures. Shift yourself back to a more realistic view by thinking and/or sharing something you appreciate about the other person. This simple tool allows both people to let their guard down and focus on fighting to fix rather than fighting to win.

 

The Takeaway:

Ultimately, your focus determines your happiness. If you’re so concerned with being happy all the time, you’ll ignore the moments when you actually are. Don’t know what makes you happy? That’s fine. Just focus on the feeling when it comes up. Take in the entire sensory experience. Over time, you’ll strengthen your ability to notice the good and ignore the crap, improving both your mood and your relationships. And to me, that’s much better than crystals, Prozac, or Netflix.

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Feels Lonely on Facebook

Isolation is an epidemic.

The other night, after a particularly long social media binge, I felt the sudden onset of a hangover. While it may not have started in wine or ended in a headache, the similar anxious, listless, comfortless quality was palpably present. It was a classic emotional hangover. The irony, of course, was that it came from an outlet designed to foster connection from the comfort of my couch.

The truth is that social media has grown far beyond friendships and is now a tool used to sell teeth-whiteners, compare ourselves to our exes, and fake a fantasy life.  As Facebook continues to exacerbate our need for authentic connection, our social skills continue to degenerate.

Sure, we can interact. But, can we connect?

If you’d rather text than talk, order food online over using a phone, or scroll through Instagram pics rather than seeing friends in person, then this post is for you.

Social connection impacts our emotional and physical health. According to former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, isolation and loneliness can create chronic stress, similar to factors such as illness, poverty, discrimination, and violence. It’s a growing epidemic: In the 1980s, 20% of adult Americans said they were lonely. Today, the percentage has doubled to 40%.

The good news is that you don’t have to swear off social media to create more connection. Here are:

7 steps to build better relationships:

1) Upgrade your connection.

No, I’m not talking about your internet speed. Instead of texting, talk on the phone. Meet friends and colleagues in person. Even Facetime and Skype can build better bonds. Feeling short on time? Remember, just because something is efficient, doesn’t make it better. Communication on each medium varies. So, avoid the misunderstandings and deepen your relationships by upgrading how you communicate.

2) Accept the friend request.

Often, we place people in categories without giving them a real chance. Deepen your current connections by:

  • Trying something new (e.g. going for a hike instead of a drink)
  • Sharing how you feel (e.g. being vulnerable and honest)
  • Working on it rather than dismissing it (e.g. being courageous enough to troubleshoot problems rather than ghosting) 

3) Who dis?

Define what you want in a friend down to every last detail. Want a bestie who does yoga, yoda impressions, and yodels with her yorkie? Weird, but cool. You have to know what you want to know if you have it and where to find it.

4) Expand your circle with friends, not followers.

The best way to meet people with similar interests is by exploring your own. Upgrade your activities by rekindling an old hobby or starting a new one. If you want to meet the right people, you need to be your best self. That means less time doing what isn’t working and more time doing things that speak to your passions and values.

5) Disconnect.

I can’t tell you how many times I go to a restaurant and see people ignoring each other and staring at their phones (even when they're on a date!) Unless there’s a life-threatening emergency, let the other person know you actually want to be there by silencing your phone and putting it away.

6) Can you hear me now?

So often we listen to respond rather than to hear. Instead of secretly planning your response, let their words sink in. Your undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give someone and the key to understanding and empathy.

    7) Still loading.

    Loneliness is normal. Even with strong relationships, this natural human emotion is bound to surface. Our feelings of isolation took time to develop, so don’t expect overnight results. Be patient with yourself and others, focusing on the steps you’re taking instead of how far you have to go.

    The Takeaway:

    Whether you’re surrounded by people or alone on your couch, isolation is a growing issue. Don’t let the number of Facebook friends or followers define you, your relationships, or your time. In any moment, you can take simple steps to feel less lonely and create more connection.