Short Attention Span? Try This.

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Sometimes Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, our cell phones, YouTube, the internet in general, an inspired idea, and food, among an infinite list of potential things to do, are too tempting to ignore. A span of 20 minutes or however long we are trying to stay focused on something else (likely something else more worthwhile) may not be able to compete.

The List of Infinite Possibilities

When I sit down to write or do something that I would like to focus on for a period of time (usually 20 minutes to an hour), I am inevitably reminded of something from this list of infinite possibilities. I often find myself wandering to satisfy whatever curiosity of the moment has stricken.

I reason with myself that I have to do whatever it is in the moment or I might forget later, or that I will just check this one little thing and get back to work. We’ve all been there. You look up and wonder where the last 15 minutes or more went. And can’t believe that you got sucked in again to that fifth YouTube video, or are wondering how you suddenly caught up on the Facebook feed since yesterday.

Distractions are inevitable. They will always be there. They will even be there 20 minutes or an hour from now, after more important things have been taken care of. Guaranteed. It’s our job to manage them into appropriate times throughout the day so we don’t get side-tracked too often.

It’s fun to do vacation research and brainstorm creative ideas. Sometimes these things are much more appealing than the task at hand, and can derail our productivity. While they still matter to us, we have to be disciplined sometimes to save the seemingly more appealing activities until just a bit later in order to actually get things done.

The Distraction List

The other day I came across the idea of a distraction list. The distraction list is simply a running list of things that come to mind while you are already engaged in another tasks. This could be pretty much anything. The only criteria is that it is something you either feel you need or want to do in the moment.

Rather than switch gears and give up the focused energy you have for the present task, make a note of the activity on your distraction list, and then come back to that list (if you like) after you finished you commitment to what you were already focused on.

I love this idea because 1) I love making lists and 2) it’s like having a reward system built into your day. I decide before I start working on something how much time I am going to work on it. The period of time is almost always at least 20 minutes, and often a full hour.

During that time, when I realize that I really want to research new pool vacuums, look at my wedding pictures, or write a blog post about something like distraction lists, I make a quick note on my list so I don’t forget the idea, and then continue working on my current project.

The best part is, after my time is up, I can go back to my distraction list and pick whichever idea I feel most excited about in the moment and indulge myself in that activity for 15 minutes or so before moving on to the next thing from my real list of things to get done. This way, I was still able to be productive, but got to enjoy something that felt inspired, just a little bit delayed.

How do you deal with distractions throughout the day? Please share your thoughts!

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  1. Meg Evans Jul 15, 3:24 pm

    I don’t have a distraction list labeled as such, but I do have a folder where I keep notes on random things that come to mind such as blog post ideas, story ideas, home decorating thoughts, a sketch of a floor plan for a house I might like to build someday, etc. Your distraction list sounds very similar!

    1. anniehurley Jul 16, 4:04 pm

      Hi Meg! Yes, that does sound similar. Sounds like it could even double as a vision board of sorts 🙂


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