How to Be Deliberate with Your Distractions

Don't let clickbait and a flood of 'good content' run roughshod over your productivity.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #488

Image of a man being deliberate with his online distractions

Today’s topic is on the most devious form of distraction, and how to blast through it and keep laser-like focus, or what passes for focus in the 21st century.

Complicated is a word that could be used to describe most people's relationship with the internet. For example, every time I try to get something productive done, something on the internet drags my attention away. Oh, look! A politician tweeted something! Bitcoin is now worth more than Google! Here’s an awesome picture of a black hole formed by two colliding galaxies! It's all interesting but exhausting and, more importantly, a potential prudctivity killer. 

Clickbait is Easy to Recognize

We all know you never, ever click on pictures of adorable, cute, fuzzy little kittens. Or sneak a peek at Justin Bieber’s latest zany adventures (hilarious!), MattyB’s YouTube channel (meaningful), or Taylor Swift’s manifesto on 18th-century lesbian poetry and its influence on the latest Australian elections (puzzling). 

These are all clickbait and gossip. They’re there to titillate us, make us click a link, and make Google a cool $1.35 per click. Ka-ching!

When we follow clickbait, we know we’re being naughty. MattyB won’t make us more productive. And yet…and yet…his four billion channel views just went to four billion and one. 

But these are minor compared to what’s become the worst and most devious of internet distractions. 

There’s Too Much Good Content

The real problem happens when a friend sends an article on a new rocket engine that runs on oatmeal. Since you’re a rocket scientist (I’ll bet you’re wondering how I knew that), you click the link and read a fascinating article on the technology that’s going to revolutionize your industry. You’ll be able to power a rocket entirely off your Quaker Oats, maybe as soon as the year 2028.

That article has a sidebar with the headline, “How the new tax bill will change your life.” You’ve heard about this tax bill, and it’s probably pretty important, so you click on that article to read it. Two thousand words later, you have learned that you really need to call your accountant and review your financial situation, which you were planning to do anyway.

All that well-written, interesting content added up to ... nothing much.

These articles are well-written, interesting, and useful. They have links to more well-written, interesting, useful articles. And after you’ve read several dozen of them, you know a little more about All the Things! 

As for the work you’d planned for today, there just isn’t time. You’ll have to catch up tomorrow. 

Any one of those articles was worth reading. But somehow, all that well-written, interesting content added up to…nothing much. You took a step forward, a step to the side, a step backwards, and a step to the other side. Lots of movement that left you right back where you started.

Today’s internet puts too much high quality content at our fingertips. We end up overwhelmed, and get nowhere. 

Seek Out Information, Don’t Respond to It

Before the internet, good information was rare. When it crossed our paths, we read it and learned. Now that good information is everywhere, we need to be deliberate. No more reading whatever crosses your path, even if it’s well-written and interesting. Filter out anything that doesn’t help move you in the direction you want to go. And seek out anything that does.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.