Social media is my reprieve when I get distracted. After starting off with Instagram, I move to Facebook then I check Twitter, and since it’s been 10 minutes since I checked /r/Guitars, I obviously have to open the Reddit app. After spending some 5-10 minutes in the Reddit rabbit hole, I have to watch Jim Cornette’s shoot interviews on YouTube, because man, even he is cursing someone, he is so effing articulate, plus I also need to know the story behind how Kane got into the WWE! And, since I’m not getting any work done, guilt kicks in, and I need to read how to avoid procrastination. After reading an article, I get temporary motivation, and I set out to get back to work.
But the sheer volume of work leaves me overwhelmed, and the whole cycle repeats itself.
Does this sound familiar?
You see, we all are preys to instant gratification. We know what we ought to do, but we’d rather watch random cat videos on YouTube than doing the actual work. Because we feel the short-term happiness is better than the anxiety and tension caused by getting started with the work.
If you are familiar with the habit loop, you’ll find that for every action there is a cue that triggers the activity to derive the reward. Refer to the artistic visual representation of the habit loop below.
I have been observing how I get distracted to identify the cues, and I have found four triggers:
- FOMO (Fear of missing out): I NEED to know who got married in the last 10 minutes
- Boredom: I’m bored. Let’s see who got married in the last 10 minutes
- Overwhelmed/Not clear how to get started: Arrgghh I’ve got lots of work to do, but before starting, let me check who got married in the last 10 minutes
- Habitual pattern: I have unlocked the phone and checking my Facebook news feed to see who got married in the last 10 minutes, but I have no idea as I’m doing it
Neuroscientists say that to break a habit, the only thing you need to change is the routine, and to see what works for you, you need to experiment a bit. I would like to share what strategies/tactics/hacks/any buzzword of your choice I’m trying out to avoid being distracted.
Now, you don’t need to go this far. In the beginning, I started with turning off notifications, then tried not using the internet the whole day on my smartphone, but none of these strategies worked. Because I always found ways to get distracted when I had a smartphone with me.
So, I decided to get rid of the temptation altogether, and hence from the beginning of 2018, I have started using Nokia 130 DS at work, a state-of-the-art feature phone with 32GB expandable memory card slot and an inbuilt torch.
I use smartphone only when I’m at home, and only for a limited amount of time. I keep it in the kitchen so I don’t get the urge to check it frequently.
Before going kinda cold turkey on the smartphone, I experimented with turning off the app notifications, but the biggest problem was the phantom buzz you feel when you want to get distracted.
You can go for this option if you would like to get started with limited smartphone use.
Digital Detox App
As the name suggests, Digital Detox App allows you to block the phone usage for the stipulated amount of time. I used to do 20-minute detox sessions last year, and it was very hard!
Block Apps – More Productivity and Focus
This app allows you to create schedules, wherein you can block the apps you don’t want to use for defined time chunk. I use this to block social media apps from 10:30 PM to 07:00 AM. Here is the link to download the app.
An alternative to this app is AppBlock – Stay Focused.
Quality Time – My Digital Diet
This app allows you to monitor your smartphone usage and also lets you set app usage time alert. I have set alerts for 20 minutes each for Instagram and Facebook. I get notifications whenever I exceed the 20-minute mark on both of the apps. That’s still a lot of time, but I’m taking small steps.
Pomodoro technique is a practice in which you work in intervals of 25 minutes and at the end of an interval called as a Pomodoro, you take a break of 5 minutes. After 4 successful pomodoros, you take a break of 15-20 minutes.
You can tweak this method as per your convenience. When I’m working from home, I usually do 8 pomodoros, and at work, the count at the moment is 2-3 / 4-5 pomodoros.
I used to use either ClearFocus: Productivity Timer or Clockwork Tomato for Android, but these days I use this technique exclusively in browsers. For Chrome and Firefox, you can find an add-on called Tomato Clock.
To manage my to-do list, I use a nifty tool called Any.do. I like this app because it has a very clean interface, allows me to divide my tasks into multiple areas like personal, Guitar Gabble, IndrajeetAD.com, guitar practice, work and so on. It allows me to set recurring tasks/ routines and it also gives me a composite view of daily tasks from the above areas.
And when the overwhelm is setting in, and I’m about to either get in the distraction loop or step out for a chai break, I take a step back, and open my task list for the day. I pick one task and write down steps to get started with that task on a piece of paper. I break the task to its bone and write every damn thing that is needed to be done. I learned this technique from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (I’m currently reading this book). Doing this gives me some clarity, and reduces the uncertainty that causes me to seek distractions.
When I’m working in a browser, I use StayFocusd extension in Google Chrome. I use this tool to block social media sites for a certain amount of time.
For Firefox, you can use LeechBlock.
So, these are some experiments I’m trying to avoid being distracted. Although I still get distracted many times despite having these tools at my disposal, I have realized that there is no silver bullet solution to this problem. The only thing I can do is change my behavior whenever I become aware of my distractions.
I am curious to know which of these ideas you would like to give a try. I am also looking forward to knowing what tactics work for you. Let me know in the comments section below.
Note: I am not affiliated with any of the apps suggested. I’m sharing the ones that have worked for me. If my recommended app doesn’t work for you, you can try out the other alternatives available.
Photo Credits: Gilles Lamber