Distraction Costs You Free Time – Here’s How to Kill It

Hang on a second, I just got a text message.

Ok. Hi!

Did I pay the water bill? Hang on. I’ll be back in a minute.

Does this situation look familiar? We live in the most productive time in human history. Thanks to the power of the internet, anyone can do just about anything they dream of. However, we also live in the most interrupted time in human history. What can we do!?

A Washington Post study claims each interruption costs us 23 minutes. On average it takes 23 minutes to get back to the mental place you were yanked out of by that notification, roommate, coworker, or significant other.

Three interruptions costs you an hour per day.

Maybe this is melodramatic or overinflating the problem, but no one is going to argue the opposite: that interruptions help productivity.

Ooh, someone just mentioned me on twitter!

We actually face two types of distractions:

  • External – people walking into your life and asking for something and everything in your world that goes “ding”.
  • Internal – we distract ourselves right in the middle of deep work. 

Silencing the External Distractions

There’s not a lot to say here. If you value your focus, if you want to get more done in less time, if you want more free time and less stress: Silence the notifications! If it goes “ding,” make it stop. You can always choose to go check these things on your own schedule. Allowing a tag on Instagram to break your focus gives too much power over your life to someone else.

Crush the Internal Distractions – Silence the Lizard

Psychologists use the Triune Brain Model to describe the basic functions of our brain. According to this model, the three functions are:

  1. Neomammalian Complex: Rational or Thinking Brain
  2. Paleomammalian Complex: Emotional or Feeling Brain
  3. Reptilian Complex: Instinctual or Dinosaur Brain

If we trace an idea from inception to action, we follow it through these three processes:

  1. A rational idea based on information we have and logical connection of past experience to new situations
  2. An emotional filter in which we apply meaning to the proposed action
  3. An instinctual filter that alters the action in the interest of self-preservation
In other words, the Lizard Brain stands between logic, rationality, emotion, and action. And here lies the root of our internal distraction.

The Lizard flees from discomfort. It is discomfortable to stand out from a crowd. It is discomfortable to take a risk. It is discomfortable to be challenged mentally. 

When we find ourselves in a challenging situation, such as deep focus on a homework problem, project, or exam study, the Lizard reminds us to check our email. Nothing there? Check Facebook. The Lizard hides any way that it can.

So the resistance encourages us to flee, and where better to go than to the Internet? On a day when the resistance is in charge, I check my e-mail forty-five times.

The irony is that following the Lizard only extends the discomfort. At the precise moment we could make a breakthrough and be done with the challenge, we step out and add time to the process. When we leave our work to satisfy the Lizard, we add the overhead of talking ourselves into getting back on track and then actually digging back to the mental state we left behind.

Defeating Distraction Once and For All

Recognize that whether the distraction is external or internal the solution is the same: Establish a priority and then ruthlessly defend it. If it goes “ding,” turn it off. Get clear with your roommates and significant other. When you’re focused they need to leave you alone so that you can be more present with them when you are done. This requires give and take – when you increase your productivity, finish and spend time with those around you. Don’t pick up more work to fill the gap.

Lastly, when the Lizard tries to run remind yourself that this only happens when you’re close to something that matters. Take it as a sign that you’re almost there and then stay. Embrace the discomfort. Explore your way through it.

When you feel the resistance, the stall, the fear, and the pull, you know you’re on to something. Whichever way the wind of resistance is coming from, that’s the way to head—directly into the resistance.

Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

What are the main sources of distraction in your life? How you do overcome them? Leave a comment below to gain power over the situation and build someone else up.

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