Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose

By Leo Babauta

Here’s a scenario: you jump into email or [insert preferred social network here] and start doing a few tasks, reading a few things, taking care of business … but soon get lost in the swarm of distractions of little things, and two hours have gone by without getting anything important or meaningful done.

Ever happened to you?

Sometimes a big task will sit there on your todo list or email inbox, but you keep putting it off because you’re in the quick-task mode. It’s hard to do slower, more thoughtful tasks when you’re in quick-task mode.

This happens to me all the time. I will breeze through 10-15 emails because they require 1-2 sentence replies or a 2-minute task each, which means I can knock them off. But a larger task sits there in my inbox, waiting for action, and can sit there for an entire day or two.

Why? Because it requires a different mode of thinking.

And so we put it off, and let the distractions of the Internet carry us away instead.

What’s a better method? Refocus yourself. Change modes. Have a purpose for each thing you set out to do. This works for me every time.

Here’s how:

  1. Catch yourself getting lost. When you see yourself putting off a bigger email or task, and getting lost in little tasks or distractions, notice this. Watch yourself. Then pause.
  2. Pull back. Take just 10-20 seconds to stop what you’re doing, and take a step back. Look at the bigger picture of what you’re doing. What’s the most important thing you could be doing right now? A bunch of little tasks? Or is there something with more meaning on your list?
  3. Change your mode of thinking. When you’re in quick-task mode, you’re not going to be able to handle something that requires more focus and thought. Writing a longer piece is impossible when your brain is in quick-task mode. So, as you’re paused, refocus and change your mode. Prepare yourself for something with less switching and more staying.
  4. Know your intention. Taking a few seconds to remind yourself of your intention as you start a task is a good idea. If you’re going to write something, what’s the purpose of the writing? Who is it helping? How is it changing the world?

Taking just a few moments to see the bigger picture, change your mode of thinking, and set your intention for your new task is an important investment. It’s an easy thing to do, but it can change your work completely.