Distraction: The Dream Killer
5 ways to take charge of your time and life
You know how when families get together, they often harp on one incident from the past? Often with great discomfort for someone and glee for others.
For me, it was when I almost burned down the back yard and potentially the house.
I was about ten years old, and it was my job that day to burn the papers in the burn barrel.
Suddenly, I saw that a paper had blown into the field and was starting a fire. My oldest sister Helen come running out of the house. I yelled to her, but she ran to the side of the house and came back with a water hose.
Somewhere in there, she must have called the fire department, which came quickly and took care of it. They praised Helen as a smart thinking girl. They kindly didn’t say anything to me.
A clear lesson: a pattern of getting distracted and potentially drastic cost.
Because that fire happened when I saw a very interesting article in a magazine I was burning!
The same thing today:
I stop to read my e-mail, an interesting article on Pocket, check Facebook, look at LinkedIn.
Why do I do this? Drag my heels at focus? Avoid committing to something in particular?
We’ll leave that examination for another day.
It’s a habit. And habits can be changed.
If we cannot get control of our time, we’ll find our life frittered away, burned away, lost.
Now what to do about it. Here’s my plan which might help you.
1. Getting started: Time Naming
Mark Twain said: The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.
The trick is to just get started.
Set a short specific time.
Sometimes called the Pomodoro method for an Italian timer shaped like a tomato. Or timeboxing.
I prefer to call it Time Naming. This makes it intentional.
Name That Time! Is a game you can win.
It’s setting 25 minutes for short bursts of action or what you want to accomplish.
Rather than having a large block of time to wander in (and get distracted), you have a way to focus, to name that time.
- I will walk for 25 minutes
- I will expand the character’s motivation
- I will muse about an idea for a Medium post
This kind of restriction sometimes happens naturally in a day. Write in that period before an event, when the kids take a nap, while on a coffee break.
You could also set a specific time for those distractions: 30 minutes to read email and graze through articles. Or call it research time.
Again, it’s about intention.
Taking any time to write is a win for writing. You are writing; you are a writer.
2. Teeny Tiny habits
James Clear called his book Atomic Habits to refer to small but powerful habits.
So to start a habit — start small.
Set it for two minutes.
How much could you get done in two minutes?
You’re building a habit, bit by bit.
Well, I stretched it a bit. I feel like I’m drowning in paper, so I want to clear out paper excess.
I set a habit of five minutes a day. It’s really amazing what you can do in five minutes.
That’s 35 minutes a week, so over two hours in a month!
If you set two hours to clear, you might resist because it’s too big and you just want to lie down.
For writing, again start small.
I will write for 15 minutes every day. If you have a work ongoing, just jump to that.
You might work up to two sessions a day of 15 minutes of writing.
You’re really building traction muscles.
3. How traction can overcome dis-traction
Traction means pulling something along a surface using motive power.
Traction moves us towards what we really want.
A dis-traction is something we that moves us away from what we really want.
Traction means staying with something long enough to make some progress.
Dis-traction is flighty and jumps on to something else.
There’s a German word “sitzfleisch” [sitzen (to sit) + feisch (flesh)].
Like chair glue: the ability to sit still and get through the task at hand.
Or the English version: “butt-in-chair.” Staying put gets some traction.
It’s often the difference between, for example, an aspiring writer and a writer.
4. Setting Intentions
It helps to have an overall purpose to keep focus.
The benchmark, the safety net, connecting all the dots,
Not like winning the lottery, but a spiritual or humane purpose.
Perhaps simply to be kind. Works for the Dalai Lama — kindness is his purpose.
That is the base, the habit. A habit of cheerfulness, elevated thought, gratitude.
Some days are easier than others.
You could set intentions in all areas of your life.
Health: walk at least 15 minutes a day
Spirit: Meditate 15 minutes daily and gratitude throughout the day
Finances: set up online banking and cc accounts
Relationships: contact people, be present with others
5. The One Thing
Gary Keller wrote a book called The One Thing.
He asks: What is the most important activity for you to do?
If you’re like me, I sometimes do five things at once. The problem: nothing gets done.
So what is the ONE thing, the most important thing to do today, the most valuable action.
What do you love to do?
That’s what you do first, the earliest project of the day.
And no matter what, you do that. Then there’s time for all the rest of your activities.
For writing, perhaps you need to start with the love you feel for writing.
Or the goal of your writing, what you hope to accomplish with your writing.
So you CAN get control of your time.
Rather than let time control you, drain you, fragment you.
It’s your life and you get to decide how you want to live it.
You have the tools to build a powerful, meaningful, successful life.
Now start, right now.
What one thing can you do for two minutes?