Using Your Distractibility To Your Benefit

I spent years fighting distraction. I wasted countless amounts of hours attempting to pull everything out of my line of sight, doing anything I could to help keep my eyes in the right place. I tried to build blinders that would keep me on track. I fought relentlessly and I fought futilely. It was a battle that could not be won.

I’ve tried the minimal workspace. Despite the fact that it only lasted a few days (I’m messy, haven’t you read the name of this site?), it didn’t really remove any distractions for me. Since to some extent, my brain is constantly seeking distraction; it will find them even in their absence. I also tried throwing caution to the wind. I let my distractible demons take over to see what would happen. This, shockingly, did not work either…

So, how do you avoid distractions when you can’t avoid distractions? It’s easy, you don’t. You embrace your nature anddo the only thing you can, you chose better distractions. If there’s anything I’ve learned in a lifelong battle with ADHD, it’s this: it’s not a matter of eliminating distractions, it’s about putting the right ones in your path. And this could not be more true when it comes to your own workspace.

The Stupid Little Stuff

Over the past two years, I’ve been adding specific distractions driven to keep me on point. I changed the desktops on both my 27″ iMac and 13″ MacBook Air to Damien Newman’s “Squiggle”, a visual that very meaningful to me and is in the logo of this very site. There is a ripped up and peeling post-it note, the only thing allowed to mar the sanctity of my iMac, with the word SHIP to remind me to finish what I start (a lifelong battle). I placed a mug from the guys at Good Fucking Design Advice right in my line of sight that reminds me “Don’t Fucking Procrastinate” (another lifelong battle) and filled it with the remnants of a Quarterly project from Mike Monteiro to remind me to create. My wall is littered with Hugh MacLeod images, Savage Chicken comics to keep me sane and a picture of my boss with a text bubble that reminds me that he believes in me (a helpful reminder when evidence points to the opposite).

These may seem stupid, but when my attention strays, these visuals are designed to do one thing: remind me what I’m trying to do and encourage me to get back to it. It’s not flawless and I still stray, but by controlling the distractions, I give myself something positive to see rather than the negative.

The Bigger More Important Stuff

There are also tangible reminders of my work. As I’ve said in the past, I use post-it notes to remind me of critical, short-term tasks. I use GeekTool to put my calendar directly on my desktop, making it difficult to miss a scheduled obligation. I often have a small pile of work that’s yet to be processed and keep that front and center so that it doesn’t get buried. I’ve also started using a new reminder at home to try to keep me on track while working on a smaller screen in a smaller apartment, but more on that tomorrow.

Part of overcoming anything is accepting and embracing it. And in the case of distractions, it’s often a matter of accepting that there may be no way to overcome them. Once you’ve embraced that fact, try controlling what it is that distracts you and create an environment that makes the most of that distractibility to help keep you on point.

Do you have any tricks that may seem strange to other that helps keep you on track?How do you go about setting up your work space to help you get where you want to go?

4 Responses to Using Your Distractibility To Your Benefit

  1. My God it’s me but only it’s you. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU…I thought I was the only one, the only person whose job requires her to concentrate for long periods of time and create something from nothing – writing – but who couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes. The Web has only made it worse and I believe social networks are out to get me. Thanks for your advice I will embrace my distractions and turn them into productions. You rock!

    • Nice to see I’m not alone. I’m right there with you, but I’ve found the only way to fight them isn’t to ignore them or block them, it’s simply to structure my world in a way that just accepts them as an inevitability. While trying to fight through them of course!

  2. Glad to hear the chickens are helping you stay sane! I also get distracted easily, which is probably part of why I started cartooning.

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