The Distraction Sheet

There are many moments in my professional and personal life when I need to bear down and concentrate for a little while.

I need to write an article.

I need to do my taxes.

I need to finish a book chapter.

I need to review my investments.

When I’m doing these things, I don’t want to be interrupted. Interruption disrupts my train of thought. Interruption causes my task to take a lot longer than before. Interruption often results in a reduction in the quality of my work, and when I’m doing an important task, I can’t afford that reduction. It eventually hits me in the pocketbook.

Interruption is bad. I want to avoid it.

In the past, I’ve mentioned a lot of techniques I use to minimize interruption. I turn off my cell phone. I turn off my internet router or block distracting websites. I close my office door. I shut off my email program.

Those techniques do a wonderful job of eliminating external interruptions, but they do nothing to stop internal interruptions.

Let’s say I’m focused on my task at hand. I’m making great progress. My article is outlined and partially written or I’ve finished entering my income on my tax forms.

Suddenly, a thought pops into my head. This usually happens because my subconsciousness is often working on other things when I’m focused on a task. Sometimes, the task I’m working on will point me at something else I should be doing.

In other words, I sometimes distract myself.

I remember this kind of self-distraction interrupting my studying in high school and college. It has stuck with me ever since.

It took me a long time to devise a solution to this problem, and I largely discovered it while implementing Getting Things Done in my life.

Here’s what I do. Whenever I sit down to start on a task, I put a blank sheet of paper and a pen somewhere very close to where I’m working. Whenever a stray thought comes into my head, no matter what it is, I “dump” it onto this sheet of paper. I write enough down so that I can recall the thought in full when I’m done with my task, then I move back to my task as fast as I can.

When I finish the task at hand, I go back to that sheet and address everything I’ve jotted down. Usually, the things I’ve noted involve looking up pieces of information, completing household tasks, adding appointments to a calendar, or preparing ideas for other writings.

This simple step does an incredible job of keeping me on task and helping me to keep my train of thought. If I can get stray thoughts out of my head very quickly, I can keep my focus and not lose the ideas I have in my head at that moment, which helps immensely with getting things done.

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