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Three Little Habits to Find Focus

Friday, May 11, 2012

‘Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.’ ~Blaise Pascal

I’ll be the first to admit that I fall victim to the trap of the Internet — a wonderful empowering tool that can fill your day with distractions, a million little “productive” tasks that matter little, constant interruptions from messages and status updates.

Who doesn’t fall victim to this?

We are frittering our lives away.

So how do we beat this? How do we make best use of the awesomeness of the Internet (which has given me the power to do what I love) without succumbing to its powers of distraction? This is a question that obviously occupied the minds of the ancients, from Aristotle to Lao Tzu (who was particularly prone to Lolcats), without any good answer.

I have good news. There is a way. It’s not always easy, but I’ve done it, and if I can do it, anyone can.

It takes three little habits:

1. Set a time limit.

Pick something important to do, and set a limited time to do it. That might be one hour, or 20 minutes, or even just 10 if you’re having a hard time getting into it. The time limit helps sharpen your focus. If you have limited time to do something, you’ll be forced to decide what’s important. It also means you’re not doing some unlimited task that could take hours, but a very specific one that will be over in X minutes. Setting a limit is good too for when you decide to process your email — only 20 minutes to get as many emails processed as you can, for example.

2. Close everything.

This means everything possible on your computer that isn’t absolutely necessary for the task at hand. If you don’t need the Internet to write something, close it. Close email, all notifications and reminders, all programs not needed for your task. If you need your browser open, close all tabs — bookmark them, or save them to a read-later service like Instapaper. You can always open these sites when you’re done.

3. Pause before switching.

So you’ve closed everything else, you’ve set a time limit for your task at hand, and you’re getting started … but then you get the urge to check email or Facebook or Twitter. You want to see what’s happening on Instagram or Pinterest or Youtube. Stop. Make yourself pause for 5-10 seconds. This is the key habit that makes the other two work. Take a deep breath. Think about whether you really want to fritter your life away doing those things all day, every day, or if you want to do something great. Choose great, most of the time.

These are little habits, and you can do them. When your time is up, you can give yourself a few minutes’ break to check your favorite sites, and then close them again. But when you’re trying to focus, practice these habits. They’re a small price to pay for a life not frittered away by distractions.

‘Ain’t no tuition for havin’ no ambition.’ ~Buddha

Post written by Leo Babauta.