W hat happens when you sit down to write, design, draw, construct (fill free to insert any creative work), or strategically think on a challenging problem? I invite you to answer the question and consider the power of distractions in your life.

Any of this sound familiar?

Time to sit down and write!

Immediately I remember either my clothes or dishes need washing. Maybe I could quickly vacuum, dust, or at least pick up some clutter. First things first, I remind yourself, convinced that better focus might follow this flurry of activity. Either way I try again and suddenly an urgent need for something to drink, or better yet eat, overcomes me. Of course, might as well take a routine bathroom break.

Where’s my Pilot G-2 blue ink pen and the white lined legal pad I prefer? I set out to find them. After all, the tools need to feel just right.

Increasingly I sense some repelling force surrounding my chair. Sitting down and staying down doesn’t seem possible.

But I promised yourself! I’m determined! I WILL myself to sit after finding just the right pen and paper.

Decisions & Distractions

Wait! Who writes using pen and paper? My plan all along was to compose directly on the computer. Should I open a new document and risk seeing all that white blankness? No, I’m searching for some previously composed draft that’s somewhere. When I find that file, getting started will be much easier.

Once I’m at the computer searching for the file, I suddenly remember what I need to order from Amazon. Then I notice my software needs updating. Oh yeah! Some quick and useful tasks to complete.

I’m convinced I will focus better if I check my e-mail first. In order to concentrate I need reassurance that important requests from others aren’t awaiting me. At some level of consciousness, I’m hoping someone needs something urgently. Then I’ll have a legitimate reason to abandon this writing, creating, strategic thinking nonsense.

E-mail: Bottomless Pit

I open the e-mail. Before you know it, I’m lost in a sea of interesting things to read. I’ve succumbed to all the enticing click bait. But I love learning new things. How can this be a waste of time? Plus, this gives me great ideas!

Quickly, I click a Facebook lure. Find myself staying long enough to write the relevant birthday wishes. Well, why not just scan the feed since I’m here? I might as well check out the Twitter hashtags that I’ve saved . . . somewhere.

Phone rings, jarring me back from the rabbit trails I was chasing. After helping the caller, I discipline myself to avoid any more distractions, opting to focus only on e-mails that accomplish something.

Feels so much better to be helping others with their requests than slogging through some long-term project I can better focus on later. I answer several more e-mails. Experiencing these quick productivity wins feels awesome!

Unfortunately, after answering the simple requests and plowing through the remaining e-mail, I have the rude awakening that I’ve got way too much unfinished work to do to waste time trying to write or create something new.

Perfection

None of that negative thinking, I remind myself. I manage to resist the monumental temptation to finish responding to e-mail. But hold on. Once I return to the project, I decide that more research, rather than writing, would be a better use of my time. Additionally, I need to read more to deepen my understanding. After all, you can never know too much!

Maybe an even better use of my time would be to prepare for class or even knocking out that grading.

Enemy Within

All this distracting activity still seems better than the alternative of sitting. Quiet and stillness amplify my doubts and anxiety, bringing to mind these thoughts:

  • I don’t know what to design or write anyway.
  • I don’t know where to start.
  • I can’t do this.
  • Other people have already written what I want to say.
  • I’m already behind.
  • There’s not enough time.
  • Why bother?
  • Let me find something to eat or drink.
  • What’s on Netflix?
  • How about some online shopping or at least browsing?
  • Let me return to my Facebook and Twitter feeds for something interesting.
  • Better yet—I’ll watch a motivating TED Talk. I’ll have a better start tomorrow when I’m rested and the smaller tasks are complete. Here’s a great one I can start with Tim Urban’s Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator. Over 14 million views! Yay, I’m not alone!

Reflection

No, this isn’t my typical morning anymore, but it once was. Yes, I still fall victim to distractions and procrastination. Like Steven Pressfield, I have a healthy respect for the power of resistance and distractions. Humility is a wise response to such a pervasive and destructive power. 

The difference-now I’m much better aware of my weakness and have structures to avoid them. Plus, when I get off track I recognize it sooner and have strategies to get focused quickly.

Most importantly, I understand the power of habits and mindset. Those are the real game changers. I cultivate the useful and productive ones while staying vigilant to the deceptive and sabotaging ones.

Take ACTION!

If you can relate to this cycle of good intentions, procrastination, fear, frustration, avoidance, regret, and then renewed good intentions,

Download the FREE Guide: Combat Procrastination: 18 Essential Beliefs and Strategies


Luca Upper