Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Thoughts About Distraction-Free Working

Distractions. They’re everywhere. Whether right in front of us on our computers, in our hands on our myriad of mobile devices, or around us at home or in the office. Those distractions can get in the way of our doing anything, and doing those things well.

Which is why people turn to a variety of tools and techniques to help them get around distractions. Everything from noise-cancelling headphones to browser extensions that block access to certain web sites to editors that take up your entire screen and only let you work in plain text. These tools are praised in many corners, and reviled or ridiculed in others. I’m in the former group.

Tools that let you work with a minimum of distractions can be useful.

Notice I wrote can in the last paragraph. Why? Because all the tools and tricks in the world can’t help you block out distractions. You’re the key. Your discipline. Your concentration. Your effort.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

I’m writing this post as my daughter is practicing her cello less than a meter to my right. It’s not that my daughter is a bad cellist, but she’s trying to learn a new and somewhat difficult piece. Which means a lot of missed or bad notes and a few slips as she changes key and tempo. That can be very distracting.

Sure, I could put on my daughter’s noise-cancelling headphones or move to another room. But I’ve hit my stride writing this post (and other things) at the moment, and prefer to remain rooted to my spot at the dining table.

While I’m writing this post in TextDrop (which is a fairly distraction-free work environment), what’s really keeping the distraction at bay is focus.

And that’s really what it takes to block out distractions. Focus. It’s that simple. Then again, it isn’t.

Developing the proper focus takes time and effort and concentration and discipline. It took me years to develop my focus. A lot of that came from growing up in a house where my father worked with very loud power tools and car engines. I needed to learn to focus in order to read or just do my school work. And while I still use distraction-free tools to work, I’m relying on them less and less. I know now that I’m the key to blocking out distractions.

It’s not the software. It’s not the hardware.

It’s me.

By marshalling my focus, I can block distractions out and actually get things done.

If you can develop no other skill, let that skill be focus. You’ll find that it’s your most powerful productivity tool.

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