One thing we often forget about productivity is that it is just as much about what you do as what you don’t do. Distractions and procrastination are a huge part of dwindling attention spans. We know what we must do, and there are often incentives to do these things. But there are few disincentives for you to do other things – and often, there is short term gratification from escaping to Instagram for one hour than trying to review that one difficult chapter. So we end up something like this…
When we say ‘yes’ to something, we are inevitably and invariably saying ‘no’ to something else. We can’t escape this. Sure, you might say you want to do everything – but when you say ‘yes’ to checking your phone for the millionth time, you are also saying ‘no’ to studying for the millionth time.
If you want to be productive, you have to be concerned with what you don’t do as much as what you do do.
Here are progressive steps you can take to remove distractions and stop procrastinating.
1. Eliminate Distractions by Design
Often when we don’t have the ability to control ourselves from our distractions, the best way is to choose to completely block yourself off the opportunity to do such things. Humans only have a limited amount of willpower every day to do things, and often enough resisting distractions requires too much effort on your part that it eats away into your willpower before you even start studying. Hence, the easiest first step to stop procrastinating is to cut out all opportunities to do so.
When creating your own way of eliminating distractions, ask yourself these two questions: What makes me distracted? What can I do to make sure I do not have the opportunity to have this distraction pop up during my study/work time?
If you procrastinate by sleeping, do not study at home – go out and find a spot to study. One reason we always find ourselves sleeping when we study in our room is because our brain already associates your room and bed with the act of sleeping, so finding another room or place where you always study and do nothing else will help you build the habit of studying. If you still find yourself sleeping at other places, start by choosing places where it is socially unacceptable to sleep – a Starbucks, for example.
If you don’t actually need Wifi, don’t go to a place with Wifi. Don’t do PW on your gaming computer, do it in school in the computer lab. Ask someone to drop you off at a library without an Ezlink card, cash or phone. It’ll be just you and your books until you get picked up. Or if you’re studying out with a friend at the library, switch phones – that way your friend can determine for you if you actually need to use your phone and vice versa. If you find yourself always talking to your friends instead of studying…maybe don’t study with your friends can?
There are countless apps that can lock your phone for a certain period of time, or block certain applications or websites entirely from running on your computer. A list of applications to eliminate electronic distractions that actually work can be found here and here. But often you can make do without the applications – just ask your mom or best friend to change the password to your gaming computer or Instagram account. Or uninstall all distracting apps and ask them to change the password to your iCloud account.
2. Commitment Devices
Commitment devices are essentially devices that force you to complete a task within a given set amount of time because you have committed something that you can lose. Rewards are important, but if you have something to lose this can often compel us further. This helps you generate personal importance and urgency to studying. Think of something that you know matters to you, and put it at stake.
For example, you could give your best friend a hundred dollars after you say goodbye to him/her after school. If you didn’t finish a practice paper that day, she/he gets to keep it the next day, permanently. You can also commit pocket money to your parents, or ask them to keep your phone/gaming computer for a week if you don’t finish a certain task by a given time.
You can also commit online via applications such as Beeminder and Stickk . They take money away from you when you can’t fulfil a committment. Stickk also has the option of donating to an anti-charity (a charity that you do not support) to discourage you from not following through your commitments.
3. Brain and Emotional Dump
Our brain can only hold up to three things at a time effectively. Holding any more and our memory power starts to dwindle. Hence thoughts that are irrelevant to the task at hand should be put in a brain dump.
A brain dump is a way to externalise your thoughts and get it out of your head. One way to do this is to write any passing thought onto paper. This allows you to remove distractions or random thoughts or errands that you need to remember. At the same time, it allows you to fall back onto the list when the appropriate time comes. If you have a place to put all your rambling and wandering thoughts, you can compartmentalise them and pen them down for review later.
On the other hand, an emotional dump is for those who are distracted by their emotions. We’ve all been there – rather than studying for the next test, we are bummed out by our previous test that we did badly for. The result? We spend hours trying to release that negativity by ruminating over how terribly we did. Or that we feel stressed because there are seven million things we have to complete before tomorrow. A lot of us may complain to our friends or vent to release this stress or negativity.
Another productive way to dump your emotions is to map out all your stress and negativity onto a piece of paper and to promise yourself that you will look at it at another time (one hour later, three days later, etc). This promises yourself that you will have a time to feel butthurt or complain in your schedule. At the same time, it also makes sure that we go back to the emotions when we are in a calmer state so that we can tackle and address them better. This doesn’t mean you should bottle up your emotions – but to give them a safe space to be expressed and then addressed later on. If you find yourself spending too much time expressing your emotional stresses, then set a time limit to how much you can vent. After a certain amount of time your venting will just turn into a feedback loop of misery and despair, so setting a time limit ensures that your venting is an emotional outlet rather than a means to reinforce negativity.
4. ‘A Not To Do List’
If you’re really into ‘to do lists’, then you should also make ‘not to do lists.’ A ‘Not To Do List’ gives your brain the ability to pinpoint actions that you should not do. This allows you to control the reward you give to your brain when you choose not to do something. Our brain works on a method of gratification – we often procrastinate because there is a short term reward, and doing the right thing often has delayed reward. So what does the brain choose? Procrastination. But if we change the feedback system, if we get to control what kind of feedback is given when we don’t do a certain thing, we are more likely not to do it.
Make a ‘Not To Do List’ and attach a reward to each thing you should not do. It should be created alongside your ‘To Do List.’ This ‘Not To Do List’ can include ‘not gaming until I finish a certain chapter’ or ‘not opening Instagram for one day.’ What is important is to make sure your ‘not to do list’ ensures you that you are doing the right thing at the right time – so it doesn’t mean no games and no Instagram, but no games when it is a barrier to your success. When you combine this ‘not to do list’ and ‘to do list’, often you find yourself rewarding yourself doubly.
With these four steps, you can become a master ninja guru on eliminating distractions in your life. Dream big and do the things you want to (because there’s nothing stopping you!)
And with absolutely no distractions, you have no choice but to surrender to success.
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