I often listen to music while working, writing, or when doing anything "knowledge-work" related. But most of the time, I don't have any specific music that I want to listen to, and a playlist I usually use to listen to while working. So I open YouTube and try to find anything that I would like.
— SpongeBob Narrator: "a few hours later".
The only thing I needed was to do the work, I didn't need music, I didn't need YouTube, but suddenly I'm procrastinating, watching useless videos, and being stuck on YouTube rabbit hole.
Every time this happens I reflect on two things: the first one is the attention economy and the second is how to design better systems.
The Attention Economy
We live in a world that everybody is trying to get your attention: on social media, advertisement, influencers, TV, people around you. Everybody.
Having the attention means visibility, and today, this number is very important when it comes to monetizing things. Our "beautiful" capitalist world.
It's easy to be distracted by the physical world — TV, friends, colleagues — and the digital world — any new shiny social media, ads, notifications. I'm not saying that they are bad things, even though most of the time they can be. My theory is that it's easy to "say yes!" to things that don't matter to you. Because they are entertaining or just a tool to potentialize your procrastination.
I don't want to be a prisoner of distractions.
How to design better systems
The first thing that I always think about is to use my energy on things I can control.
- I can't control social media's algorithm. But I can remove the app from my phone.
- I can't control TV entertainment shows. But I can turn it off — or just not buy it at all.
- I can't control people texting me. But I can separate work time from leisure time.
The idea is to focus on things that I can control and create systems that can support this concept.
What do I do to control distractions?
I have some tools and systems I use to help me don't on the procrastination rabbit hole, but I'm still improving it.
- Whenever I'm working, I put my phone in airplane mode.
- Set up social media to not send too many notifications, just the good amount that I find healthy.
- Depending on the social media, I delete it from my phone and just take a break from it.
- I have a "list" on my phone to remember the habits I want to cultivate daily.
- I use an extension called Work Mode to block social media — or any other website I configure — when I'm working.
- I use an extension called Demetricator to remove the number of followers, likes, retweets. I think it helps me focus on some content and not too much on trendy things.
- I usually use lists instead of following people. As I have a small number of people I follow, Twitter's home doesn't have too much content there. I open, don't see anything new, and close the app.
- Ads are very distracting too, and most of the time, they are not interesting to me. I AdBlock them.
- As I told you in the beginning, I usually use YouTube to listen to music while studying or working. So instead of opening the website, I have a Spotify playlist to work on and a bookmarked playlist on YouTube. So every time I want to listen to music while working, it's just basically one click — instead of hours of procrastination.
But I'm not only distracted by these things. I'm also distracted by the future or the next things I want to do on that day.
I do two simple things here: one thing at a time and being conscious about my day.
The one thing concept is very simple: Instead of multitasking, I focus on only one thing. My head is thinking only about that one thing. It has a start, middle, and end. After finishing it, I can think about other things.
Even though it's simple, it's also difficult to execute. My head is always thinking about the future and it brings me a lot of anxiety. What is the next thing? Everything is planned? Can I do everything I plan today?
To focus on that one thing is a constant battle against my head and thoughts.
And to be conscious about my day is to plan. I create a simple list of things I want to do and prioritize it. Sometimes I put too many things. Sometimes I put not that many. So I usually adjust through the day.
Planning is also a battle against my inner ambitions. I want everything. For today! But it's not how things work. I won't have time to do everything I want, so saying no is crucial.
Planning also helps me calm my anxiety. I planned, so I know what I need to do. I don't need to be constantly debating with my brain what are the next things.
One thing that I also learned was to create space for serendipity. I don't want to make my calendar works as lego and place every little detail there. Without any space to breathe and use my intuition. Time for reflections is so important in my life that I have "meetings" on my calendar to have time to just think about anything.
I do want to do great things and time is one of the things that we can't waste. If most of my time I'm wasting on useless things, I won't accomplish my goals and live my life the way I want. Focusing on things I can control and systems to fight distractions and procrastination is the way to go.