Creativity requires focus
It is an unappreciated fact that creativity in any profession requires deliberate focus. Talking to people, reading fun articles and attending events are all important for facilitating creativity, however they are meaningless if you don’t apply them by actually sitting down and producing something of value. Whether it is an article, an artwork or a software program, you need time to focus to create anything important. There’s no way around this.
In our modern world, it is becoming even more important that we learn the important skill of focusing. These days, you aren’t rewarded simply for how many hours you put in, you are rewarded for what you manage to create within those hours. Seeing the importance of focus, it is a tragedy that we are losing our ability to focus over time.
And what is causing this decline? It is the fact that we are always connected, always distracted, constantly occupied by the tiny little screens in our hands, pockets and laps. This is a short guide based on how I deal with this problem. These are the main steps I took to wrest back control over my own life from the distractions of modern technology. You might find it helpful as well.
Turn off mobile notifications
The first step is to turn off unimportant distractions. According to a study done by the University of California, Irvine it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task once you’ve been distracted. And phone / computer notifications provide these distractions constantly throughout the day.
I’ve turned off all notifications on my phone and computer. If someone needs to communicate with me urgently, they can call. Instead I check my email, WhatsApp and other social media apps in five minute chunks when I’m not working.
Use a website blocker
The second thing is to realize that just simply willing yourself into not visiting distracting websites during work time is not an effective strategy. You need to make it difficult for future-you to procrastinate using Facebook, YouTube etc. Thankfully, this is very easy due to website blocking extensions. I use StayFocusd extension with Chrome. Using the extension you can block the websites you find distracting. You can set in advance what days and times the websites will be blocked. You get a certain amount of time per day to spend on those websites and after your time is up, you can’t use them anymore. If you use Mozilla Firefox, look into a similar extension called LeechBlock.
Kill your Facebook news feed
The Kill News Feed extension for Chrome and the equivalent Kill FB Feed for Firefox will make you more productive when using Facebook. You will still be able to check your messages, view notifications and post status updates. However, you will not have to deal with the most distracting feature of Facebook: the news feed.
Make YouTube less distracting
The DF YouTube (Distraction Free) extension for Chrome and the CleanTube extension for Firefox make YouTube less distracting. Using these extensions, you can still search for and watch videos. However, the most addicting features like the recommended videos and the comments are not shown.
Multitasking might be useful or even necessary in some situations. However, often times it can be bad and decrease the quality of your work. Using the xTab extension for Chrome and the equivalent Max Tabs extension for Firefox, you can limit how many tabs you can open. This will allow you to focus more on what is in front of you rather than distracting yourself by opening unnecessary webpages in new tabs.
Use the Momentum dashboard
The Momentum Dashboard extension available for both Chrome and Firefox is a must-have. It shows you a to-do list, a daily inspirational quote and a visually stunning landscape picture in the background. It also shows you the time and the weather. On top of this, you can enter your focus for the day and be reminded of it every time you open a new tab or window.
The Pareto principle
The Pareto Principle states that approximately 80% of the value is obtained from 20% of the inputs. In simple words: you should cut out not just the not useful things from your digital life but also the things which are only a little useful. An obvious place where this applies is social media. Joining a new social media site might add some positive value to your life but does it provide the most value and is the value it provides large enough to be worth spending your time on it? Another place where this applies in online content. Reading articles, news websites and watching informative videos can add some positive value to your life but which specifically are the blogs, websites and YouTubers who provide the most value. Feel free to cut out the rest without feeling guilty.
Research online. Create offline.
When the internet becomes too distracting, turn it off. Disconnect from the Wi-fi. Plug out the router. Whatever it takes. Your attention is the most important asset you have and you don’t want it to be stolen from you. This would be too extreme a step for many people but for some it is necessary.
You can research online but when it comes time to create something (whether it is writing, video editing, playing an instrument etc), you might find it useful to work offline. We’re so immersed in technology that we sometimes forget that this is an option.
I’m not perfect. I procrastinate too. However, the amount of time I spend procrastinating decreased significantly once I applied all the above. My hope is that this article will do the same for you. Now go out into the world and make something amazing. Thanks for reading!