I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking about fear all month for #FearlessFebruary (a social movement by to help you face your fears in the month of February). Of the many ways that fear affects us, two of the most common are procrastination and distraction.
They happen all the time for me. If I have hard and scary work to do, I find it so easy to do just about anything else. I’ll check email, read twitter/facebook, clean my desk, click on any click-bait that I come across, google any idea that pops into my head, and on and on.
Whether it is writing when I don’t feel like it, clearing out my inbox all the way, creating something scary and vulnerable, or just sitting in the chair and creating something, it’s easy to procrastinate and distract myself.
Your attention will take the path of least resistance.[tweet that]
This may take the form of doing the easier items on your to-do list first — the ones that are less risky and more fun. Or (like me) you may end up wasting time on social media.
If I’m using an internet enabled computer I can go from writing or working on something to being lost on Facebook in two clicks; two clicks that can happen quicker than it takes for you to read this sentence.
After battling this for far too long, I’ve developed a method to stop procrastinating.
It has three levels, depending on how much help you need:
Level 1: Start with the difficult task at hand. If possible, break it down into steps. Then set a timer for somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes (my favorites are 20 or 45). While the timer runs, your one and only job is to accomplish that task. It’s a race. As long as the time is running, you are trying to beat it to the finish.
If you think of something else that you want to do or check on, write it down and come back to it on your break. If you don’t finish, take a break and do it again.
Level 2: There are times when distraction and procrastination are too strong and I need more help. So I use a physical analog timer that makes a loud audible ticking (like this one). Though it borders on annoying, the sound helps me stay focused and reminds me to keep working.
Level 3: The final trick in my arsenal is to block all potential distractions in order to keep me on track and focused. To do this, I use a free little app called Self-Control (a bit of an ironic name). The app has you input websites that you’d like to block and choose an amount of time during which they will remain blocked. Once you hit start, there’s no way to stop it— even restarting your computer won’t help.
I have email and all my social media sites on my block list.
The icon displays the countdown timer on your task bar, so you can easily see how much time you have left to finish.
The point of all of these techniques is not to replace your lack of self control, but to serve as guide rails when you loose focus and your attention strays. They’re easy to implement and are proven ways to be more productive.
Fear is tricky, and it uses procrastination and distraction to keep you from risky, hard work. When you find yourself avoiding something, it’s important to notice it. Ask yourself what’s going on and why it’s so hard for you. Explore your fear. Become friends with it. It’s telling you something.
Now it’s your turn, how do you fight distraction and get hard work done? Share in the comments.
PS- This blog post was adapted from one of the daily prompts for #FearlessFebruary— a social project to help you face your fears and take personal, meaningful risks in the month of February.