Eliminate Distraction: The 8 Things to Let Go First

If you want to achieve a lot, you have to give up on some things. That’s a bit of a contradiction, but there lies wisdom in these words. If you want to do many big things, you can’t be caught up doing tons of small, seemingly urgent tasks that don’t get you anywhere.

You have to get rid of distraction.

Today, I will share with you the eight biggest distractions that I fight with and take a look at what we can do about them. But before we get started, there is one important thing that I think is crucial for all kinds of elimination we try to do. Here’s a quote from E-mail Zen:

When I debugged my email habits, one surprising fact was that I often used email as a way to take a work break. With email batched to the start of my day, this option was gone. Although I saved time from procrastination, I needed to find new ways to get the same psychological benefits I got from email overuse.

Although this quote is about e-mail, the same idea applies to everything we try to eliminate.

Sure, the things we are dropping do no good for us, but still, we are attached to the feelings we get from them. That’s why it’s not enough to just try to fill the time with work and getting things done. Instead, we need to replace the time spared with some real living!

But now, let’s get started with the distractions.

  1. E-mail: This is easily the biggest productivity drainer for most people. It’s just too easy to look busy and important (doing nothing) by reading and replying to e-mail. And the worst thing is that in most cases you even fool yourself! Check out the E-mail Zen e-book by Scott Young for practical tips on making e-mail a tool for productivity rather than procrastination.
  2. Excessive web browsing: A healthy amount of web browsing gives you information you need, new ideas, and a feeling of participation. But when you do too much of it, the benefits start to feel smaller and smaller as you are missing on the other things in life that really matter. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t have a clear vision of what you want to check out next and just wander to a news site, or worse yet, something like YouTube (don’t get me wrong, there is some good stuff on YouTube), it’s time to turn off the browser and do something different.
  3. Playing games: A small dose of great games can in fact be good for you. It’s the overdose that makes you lose on the bigger things in life. The problem with games is that they are designed to take hours, and yet more hours from your life, so be careful!
  4. TV: A few months ago, when our old TV became too old to support the modern, digital TV, my wife and I decided to get rid of TV. I have never regretted that decision.
  5. Reading: This may sound strange coming from me, but yes, you can read too much – or more specifically, read the wrong stuff. The world is full of things to read, and you just don’t have enough years in your life to read every word ever written, so you need to prioritize. Newspapers have to go (as Tim Ferriss points out, you’ll get the same information from your friends anyway), so do bad magazines and bad books. There are enough great books, magazines, and blog posts to fill the space!
  6. Work: Don’t go give your resignation just yet, but instead, at work, drop the work that is getting between you and your goals. A common tip is to avoid meetings at all costs, but they are not the only things to avoid. I once spent a month writing a coding conventions document for the company I work for – organizing meetings about the coding style, asking for everyone’s feedback, polishing the style of the document. It was fun. But still, as no one really used the document after it was completed, I don’t think it was worth the time.
  7. Material wants: The bigger your house is and the more possession you have in it, the more time you spend cleaning and maintaining it. The same applies to money: the more you want to buy, the more you have to work. That’s why it’s good to remember that to every material need (or desire) there is an additional cost beyond the price tag: time.
  8. Planning: This happens to me a lot. I love to plan my life, think about my dreams and visions, and that also takes time. If you notice that all your planning is not turning your dreams into reality, it might be a good idea to plan less, and live more (Check out Todoodlist for some brilliant ideas on planning).

These are the distractions I fight every day. With some of them, like the TV, I have been really successful, but with some, like planning and e-mail, it’s a constant struggle. But even struggle is better than surrendering and letting them rule my life.

What distractions are you ready to fight today?

6 thoughts on “Eliminate Distraction: The 8 Things to Let Go First”

  1. It’s just that the days are so damn short.

    What the ‘Insanely Interested’ need, in my opinion, are good, solid, well founded systems. Systems that will store and build upon all the things they ‘need to know, learn and experience’. One such ‘fortress’ is already challenging to built and sustain, let alone many of them.

    Your posts offer excellent foundations for building that kind of systems, but what I am afraid of is, as you also imply, that too much planning and ‘strategy’ will just distract me from what I need to do daily.

    As somebody said it wisely: “Time spent debating the impossible subtracts from the time during which you can try to accomplish it”.

  2. @Dren: Yep, building those systems isn’t easy… And I don’t even know if it’s possible – I believe it is, but I’m still on my way to really finding out. And that’s why it’s so great to have you guys here to share your experiences!

    One thing that I have realized (I’m publishing a longer blog post on this thought on Friday) is that it’s not perfect balance that we should be after, but an insanely interesting life. I mean, the journey matters at least as much as the goal.

    The goal is to have that system in place and to be able to really be insanely interested in everything. But the journey (looking for ways to do so, eliminating things, building the systems…) should also be fun. After all, that’s also something rather interesting, right? ;)

  3. I think you’re talking directly to me Jarkko! Over the last few months I’ve slowed a bit on blogging partly due to development of another site, but also partly because I read forums, watch TV, browse the web and send email. I really need to set a schedule of sorts and not browse anything until the work I want to get finished, is finished!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Deron Sizemore’s last blog post: Questions Answered: What it’s like to Run a Web Gallery

  4. @Deron: We’re just the same, then, I think! These are all the very same things I struggle with every day. Sometimes I fall asleep when I thought I’d still write a few more posts or work on my new web sites, or just lose an hour or two surfing mindlessly (when it would have made more sense to just get to bed and continue tomorrow).

    I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, but of course with a bit of self-discipline, we could get much more out of our days ;)

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