How to Find Clarity and Focus in the Age of Distraction
In today’s world, technology and connectivity influence every part of our lives. We are bombarded with a constant stream of information, advertising, social networking, email, text messages and so on.
Most of the technology we use today is new, yet we view it as a necessity. What would life be without texting or Facebook?
In this Age of Distraction we fail to realize that very little of this connectivity is meaningful, the majority is just filler and noise.
When you can’t sit still for a few minutes without checking email or what’s trending on Twitter, how can you be able to focus on anything? And when you are not focused, your life turns into a fuzzy dream where everything moves at an overwhelming speed—you can barely catch your breath.
The power and impact of distractions
Today’s distractions are alluring. They are fun, cool and feed on our curiosity. They promise to give you something new: information, gadgets, trends, gossip. You feel you are connected and in the know.
If we pause for a minute to think about what does all this activity mean? What does it produce? Are we fully immersed in our lives or do we let the distractions lead the way and we mindlessly follow?
How can you find clarity and peace of mind when your attention is _divided _and your life is nothing but a constant stream of disruptions?
The addictive element of every new advancement in technology seems to get stronger. So it becomes harder to break the pattern and allow for clarity and focus.
This addiction has long-term effects that are not felt as we go about our days. Take a look at the items below and see what you can identify with. I sure have experienced most (if not all) of them.
Never ending addictive cycle. Like every addiction, you build a certain level of resistance and you always need more. If it goes unchecked, your desire to be online will keep growing without any visible benefit.
Short attention. You hardly notice anything. You don’t stop to enjoy what is right in front of you. You are busy chasing the next thing.
Unrealistic expectations. Because everything moves so fast, we expect to get things done faster and faster. This increases our frustration and adds to our sense of urgency and feeling overwhelmed.
Lack of enjoyment. When you rush through your actions and get anxious to move on to the next thing, you don’t experience true joy. All you experience is the rush of feeding an addiction.
Mediocre results. Multitasking and rushing produce mediocre results that reflect the effort and focus we put into our actions. When everything you read is skimmed, scanned or glanced at, you don’t gain real knowledge.
Tension. You can’t relax when you feed your addictions or rush through life. The need to keep up creates constant struggle.
How can you break the cycle of distraction and find clarity?
I don’t think there is one magic solution that works for everyone. I use some of the guidelines below on a regular basis.
Once you become aware of your own behavior, you will have more ideas and develop your own methods as you go along.
1. Recognize you can’t know everything. It is humanly impossible to be in the know of everything all the time. Give up as much as possible the things you already consider a waste of your time. Then cut some more.
2. Become aware of your thoughts and behavior. Observe your actions and thoughts for a while. What triggers the urge to go online to check your email or to read the latest news headlines when you are working? What are you trying to avoid? What is the benefit of the distraction?
3. Prioritize. If everything has the same weight, you wont’ be able to control your time and what you do with it. Learn to prioritize and focus. Spend some time thinking about what you enjoy and what matters to you most.
4. Do one thing at a time. Start with small important tasks. Focus on the quality of your work instead of quantity. Then move to the larger taking one action step at a time. Once you are done with your task, and you want to go online, do it and have fun.
5. Slow down. Allow yourself enough time to get things done or to be somewhere. Enjoy the process or the trip. Do everything deliberately.
6. Question your mind. Recognize your value outside all the noise of connectivity and distractions. What would happen if you don’t check Twitter for a couple of days? How many emails would matter the next day if you didn’t read or respond to them? You have a lot to contribute, and distractions take away from what you can offer the world.
7. Become more present. Being fully immersed in the present moment keeps you where you need to be. The rest just fades away. Pay close attention when you do anything (including your time online). Excess does not go well with presence. You will find your balance if you pay attention to everything you do.
8. Surrender and allow. Dealing with challenges is never easy. More challenges pop up or you slip into old habits. When things don’t workout or we don’t get the results we expect, we tend to get frustrated and eventually give up. This attitude does not help. If things don’t work out, pause and think about how you can do things differently. Allow yourself to be human and make mistakes. It is part of the journey. Have fun with your slip-ups and let them be.
A few words about focus
It is important to recognize that creating and producing results are completely separate from consuming and communicating. When this distinction is clear, it becomes easier to determine what course of action to take.
Focus is crucial to those who want to create and produce meaningful results. You can’t create something worthwhile if you don’t give it your focus and energy.
When thinking about focus consider the two elements below:
Intention: You have to be clear about what you want to focus on. Set your intention to do the best you can on a specific task.
Attention: Give your undivided attention to the task that is right in front of you at this moment. Shut down all the other distractions until your task is completed, or you can’t hold your attention any longer.
For more in depth discussion of focus please read the focus manifesto. It is what inspired this post. You will find simple and practical advice on every aspect of focus.
Our lives are a work in progress. We can’t rush into changing our habits. I hope you will be able to take a few steps at a time and enjoy the process.