The past three weeks have felt like a bombardment of distractions. There’s been a constant humming of noise, just in our periphery, that makes meeting our obligations that much harder. Maybe it’s the holiday season and all that goes with it, or perhaps we’re especially busy trying to juggle competing demands. So many things need our attention, but we only have so much attention to give. As a result, some things may have slipped through the cracks. We’re coming out of this fog now, but the battle against noise is far from won.
Noise = Distraction = Sad Times
Noise can be anything: our worried thoughts, our Internet addiction, our habit of leaving the TV playing in the background. If our mind is always engaged, then it’s easier to miss little details. We are not working under our best conditions, which means everything we do suffers. Even if we don’t realize it.
The small distractions may not seem like much – email, social media, binge watching Netflix – but over the course of a day they add up to hours of lost time. If we let the noise command our attention, it’s almost impossible to focus on anything.
We are always surrounded by noise, both external and internal. It takes a long time to recognize it, and it takes even longer to learn how to deal with it. For a better part of this year, we have tried to identify the noise in our life and take steps to minimize it. Whether it’s work-related stressors, personal tasks, or things in our environment, we are working toward being more deliberate with our time and attention.
How to Conquer the Noise: Time Blocking (For Real)
The Minimalists’ recent podcast episode “Noise” offers methods for ignoring distractions, focusing attention, and learning mindfulness. Many of their recommendations revolve around taking time to slow down. Focus your attention on the most pressing tasks, and try to let go of everything else. You don’t have to do it all right this minute. Mindfulness helps remove that sense of urgency and focus on that which matters most.
Their pragmatic advice was to schedule each day and each week by the hour. Plan tasks for certain times or for a particular day. Stick to the same schedule whenever possible. Check email only three times per day. Read a novel for 30 minutes before bedtime. Do laundry on Wednesdays. Practice guitar for two hours on Saturday. All these tasks, in theory, could be laid out in a calendar and checked off like clockwork.
This approach seems like a doable way to conquer distractions. We all think we’re such stellar multitaskers – until we’re lost in a sea of paperwork, our inbox overflowing with emails. In the end we haven’t even made a dent in our to-do list. The myth of multitasking has been thoroughly debunked. If we schedule our time so that we can anticipate certain tasks, then we will complete them faster.
Time blocking is more than just a buzzword for business publications – it actually works. Our brains are ready to respond to emails because we check our inbox at 3:00pm every day. We can focus on writing that report because we blocked off our schedule for it. This method is not a perfect science, and there will be days it cannot be followed to a T, but it is a solid framework for chronic procrastinators and Type A schedulers alike.
Identify Your Distractions, and Confront Them
Some of us have an innate ability to manage time this way. Others need some trial and error to learn what works. Many of us never stop learning. Leo Babauta suggests minimizing distraction by acknowledging its root cause. Figure out the emotions behind the distraction – anxiety, fantasy, boredom, fear of missing out. Take action to challenge those emotions. Then address those feelings instead of hiding from them. The only way to beat the noise is to figure out how to stop it.
If you feel overwhelmed by distractions, try these tricks to get yourself back on track. We’ve noticed a huge difference in our ability to focus and stay present. Of course we still struggle with the same noise as everyone else, but we’ve gotten better at tuning it all out.
~ Ms. RW