How to Tame Your Distractible Mind

How to focus when you're tempted by distraction is as easy as picking up a pencil.

Stever Robbins,
Episode #495

a distraction to-do list

Distractions are dastardly. Europa, the secret ruler of the Eastern Bloc, decided it was time for her yearly strategic planning session. After all, she’s been growing her empire since the 1980s, and these things require maintenance. She sits down, takes out her maps, positions the meeples she uses to represent world leaders on the map, and hunkers down to plan the next step of her world domination. Four hours later...

She’s responded to a dozen emails, participated in nine Facebook discussions, browsed three websites of kittens doing the most outrageous things, and read two chapters of Pirates versus Ninjas: The Shocking Truth They Never Told You. Horrifyingly, she even knocked over some of her meeples and didn’t notice. No matter how powerful you might be, distraction is even more powerful.

Our tools are made to distract

Distraction is a chronic problem these days. Distractions are like interruptions, but they come from inside us, so they’re much more insidious. When a minion comes to your cubicle door and interrupts you, you can turn around, activate the sonic transducer, and your handy dandy audio-vibratory-physio-molecular transport device will send your minion to Antarctica where they won’t bother you anymore.

When a distraction comes from inside us, however, there’s no escape. Even our productivity tools are no help. Our technology was once designed by people who were trying to help us work better. Then they discovered that addicting and distracting us was a much better way to make money. So now our tools, themselves, are designed to distract.

But there’s one tool that can’t distract: a pencil and paper. We’ll use this to tame our other distractions.

Distraction to-do list

Grab a piece of paper and write the important thing you want to stay focused on in big letters at the top. Underneath the title, in smaller letters, write Distraction To-Do List. This piece of paper will become your mind’s best friend. When you need to reorient, glance down and the paper will tell you what you should be doing (but probably aren’t). 

Europa grabs her paper and titles it, “Create Strategic Plan To Remain Ruler of Everything.” Then she opens her laptop to fire up some mind-mapping software that she can use for brainstorming.

As the software opens, it informs her there’s a critical update that needs to be installed. She clicks “OK” and while it’s downloading and installing, she idly clicks over to her web browser and opens Zooborns.com where the most adorable little baby penguin is being featured. This reminds her that she needs to get her son Thomas a tuxedo for his junior prom. Just as she’s about to head over to a tuxedo website, she glances down and sees “CREATE STRATEGIC PLAN.” She’s off course, but...but…but Thomas actually needs a tuxedo for the prom. What to do?


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