I’m putting the finishing touches on a book manuscript this week and next, and it’s demanding a lot of concentration.
To try and stay on task I’ve employed everything from my productivity bag of tricks.
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Time blocking
- Pomodoro timers
- Internet blockers
I’m using anything and everything I can to not let myself be distracted. This is a time for extreme measures.
That’s the funny thing about deadlines, isn’t it?
They can help us focus, but at the same time, the pressure of a due date can make us want to give in to distractions all the more. I remember the same thing happening during school exam weeks. I needed to study, I was motivated to study, but it was like my brain was looking for any excuse not to study. In some ways, the deadline helped me focus, but in others, it made me even more susceptible to distraction. Deadlines have a double-edge.
When focus is most required we crave distraction all the more.
I was relieved to discover that I am not alone in this. American figure skater, Nathan Chen says he purposely didn’t bring his phone to the 2022 Olympic Games. He knew if he had the option he would be plagued by “the urge to scroll for hours through social media.”
Now, here’s a high-performance athlete, at the top of his game, acknowledging his own weakness for distraction under pressure. So how does he counter that temptation? By making it physically impossible to indulge in unhealthy distractions. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t take breaks. He brought his guitar along for a more constructive mental reprieve. But he recognizes that top performance demands increased focus.
Ramping Up the Rules
I’ve talked before about having general rules for taming your most distracting activities. But I think we need to acknowledge that when the pressure ramps up, our rules against distraction should too. It’s just reality: When our need for focus is greater our desire to find relief from the difficult task will also be stronger. When faced with important, focus-demanding tasks, we should anticipate this and plan counter-measures in advance.
You don’t have to swear off distractions forever. But in the seasons that require your best effort and your greatest focus, it’s wise to get draconian with your distractions.
If want to be faithful stewards of the tasks the Lord has given us we need to build a moat around our focus. The world is full of distractions, sinful and otherwise, but if we want to stay on the path when life gets most demanding we’d be wise to heed the words of Solomon, “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” (Proverbs 4:25).
Personally, I’ve ramped up the Down Time rules on my iPhone. I’ve also added an additional layer of distraction blocking by using Freedom.* I’ve set it up with some pretty intense rules for blocking myself from the websites and apps I’m most tempted to check when writing gets hard and I crave a quick dopamine hit. I’ve also been deliberately slower to respond to emails and texts as well.
Will I keep these extreme measures after the deadline lifts? Probably not.
But sometimes to do your best work you need to completely retreat from the noise for a time. It’s okay to have a distraction-free season. You can come back down from the mountain when the task is finished.
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