Last time we looked at strategies for taking control of your technology. Now we will consider the environment.
Your normal environment, whether home of office, is full of things that are calling for your attention. Whether it is a photo of the family, a book you are reading, some unfinished piece of work or just the need to ‘tidy that shelf – it won’t take long’, you are surrounded by an environment that carries emotional and functional ties that shout for attention. As such, for focussed activity you are fighting a battle before you start. I urge you to find a different/neutral environment where this is possible and appropriate.
For years I have followed a practice that I have found particularly useful. When I have wanted some peace and quiet for a more prolonged period of prayer, or have had a piece of work, such as writing, that has demanded sustained concentration, I have gone to a neutral environment for a day. Usually this has been a friend’s house that has been vacant while they were out at work. Here I can just have the relevant ‘tools’ – books, laptop etc – to get the job done, although even having the laptop produces the temptation to look at emails etc. That can only be handled by self-discipline, which I consider below.
But going away for a day is appropriate only for a substantial piece of work. What about the day-to-day activities that can so easily get interrupted? Planning can achieve that. For instance I happen to be writing this part of the blog in a waiting room as I have arrived very early for an appointment. I knew I would have this time (several hours as it happens) so planned to use it productively. There is nothing in my view that I ‘own’ so I can just focus on this writing.
Removing yourself as far as possible from a distracting environment is something to be considered.
Is Tokyo the solution?
In the article on the website I referenced last time the writer tells of a man who went to extremes to put this principle into practice. He was writing a book and approaching a deadline. He could not see how to carve out sufficient undistracted time in his normal environment so purchased a ticket to fly from the USA to Tokyo and back in order to get substantial chunks of uninterrupted time. On arrival in Tokyo he went straight to the departure gate for his return flight! This seems a little extreme but demonstrates the value of making yourself inaccessible to interruptions.
Recently I watched a TED Talk on procrastination, the practice of putting off doing things. Distractions drove the speaker’s life. While amusingly presenting the topic Tim Urban showed how he personally lacked discipline and was trying to address it.
Self-discipline, which starts with self-awareness, is often the ‘bottom line’ to handling distractions. When you feel yourself reaching for something (smartphone?) while trying to attend to another matter discipline yourself to put it down and return to the matter in hand. Listen to that ‘inner prompting’ and pay attention to it. This takes time to learn and become a habit, and determination to implement, but it will repay you many-fold if you can stick at it.
There are yet more strategies we can adopt and we will consider these next time