Falling behind on your most important work? Procrastinating on that thing which you know down deep would make a huge difference, but you just can’t quite get to it? Distractions pulling you down rabbit holes which end in watching water-skiing orangutans on YouTube?
You need to disconnect and do. Here’s how that works:
Schedule a planned time. I recommend at least a 90-minute block, and 3 hours is better. Get all your materials together. Be crystal-clear about the outcome you need.
Set up a boring environment. No internet, no wifi, no radio, no TV in the background. Mobile phone in airplane mode and preferably stowed many steps away from your work area. No lovely view – blank walls are best. Train and airplane seats may be acceptable. Library cubicles could be ok if they’re away from traffic and distractions. Nothing should be there to distract you. You’ll do your best work in a setting where your inner whiner complains about the boredom and lack of entertaining distractions.
Work. Think, write, analyze, create. Do what you need to do. Trust that the good work will emerge as you remain focused. Squelch the doubting voices you might here at minute seven. Resist every temptation to get a snack or refill your drink. If something comes to mind that isn’t related to the work at hand, give yourself 15 seconds to jot down a note and then come back to the project. If you need to look up something or call a person to get more information, make a note to do it later. Insert placeholders in documents for information you don’t have handy. The mission is to do what you need to do.
Two more helps:
Don’t worry about “flow.” “Flow” is when you get so focused that your usual sense of time and self-criticism is gone. Some people will tell you to pursue “flow” experiences to get more accomplished, and better work. Flow is great. Don’t count on flow. Count on the self-discipline to keep at it. Flow states are more likely to come when you first eliminate distractions and commit to doing the work. You can accomplish your objective even if you never get into a flow state.
Take the right kind of breaks. If you’re working for more than 90 minutes you should take a short break – but not something like YouTube or social media. Those companies spend billions of dollars to distract you, and are very good at it. Give yourself 5-10 minutes reading a book or stretching or closing your eyes and breathing gently. That’s a better break. (If you are in flow, don’t interrupt it with a break.)
Practicing focused work improves your ability to be successful in every area. This is crucial self-discipline in a noisy world where people earn megabucks in the distraction industry.
Remember: Disconnect and Do.