Each week I sit down for study, reading, and writing. There, focus is my best friend. But seems like my brain is in a constant search for information, so distraction comes easy.
Focus doesn't. Focus is hard. Focus isn't natural to me. But much of life comes down to focus.
We all know we should focus. But can we? Will we?
A few years ago, seeing my tendency towards distraction, I decided I had to try to do something about it. I made a few key decisions. I've grown stronger. Jedi Master I am not, but I have grown.
One resource has been a set of iRules I try to update each year. These personal rules operate as guidelines to help me navigate some of the places I could become distracted. Alcoholics shouldn't hang out at a liquor store. And unless I'm looking to go on a digital bender, my distracted mind shouldn't have Twitter notifications.
I will include my 2016-17 iRules here, along with some elaboration. Perhaps they could serve as a decent starting point as you think this through for your own workflow.
Tablet / Phone
Disable all internet browsers and access to the app store.
My rule here is simple. No internet browsers. Nor can I have the ongoing ability to add applications.
I do this to combat endless distractions. I've discovered if I can impulsively investigate something, I will. I just cannot handle full internet access in my pocket.
There is a nice accountability component to this as well. If I have had a browser in the past few years it has always been provided by an accountability software company (e.g., Covenant Eyes or xxxchurch.com).
Email + Slack
Check email and Slack (a service our team at Calvary Monterey uses for internal communication) three times daily — at times I can actually process them.
The reason for this one is simple. My brain must focus in order to produce for the long haul. In other words, if I am constantly reacting to inbound messages, I will never get the bigger stuff accomplished. Additionally, if I react to every message quickly, I am actually holding back everyone around me by creating an unhealthy dependence on me.
Also, I began seeing how checking an email during times I could not respond was counter productive. Why ruminate on an email during my daughter’s soccer game? I cannot respond then, so why read then? I wait to be able to do both at the same time.
Do not use first or last during day.
The reason for this is connected to the first. I want to give those messages the attention they deserve. That is not what the first or last part of my day can provide. Additionally, I find that perusing messages at the start or end of the day negatively impacts the people near me, my mission, and my own countenance. I need to process messages at times I can actually devote my whole man to them.
Offline until after my quiet time.
First thing in the morning is not internet time. I begin my days with Bible reading and prayer, so hopping online at this time can completely derail the process. Admittedly, this is sometimes difficult. It’s a battle if there is a nagging question in my mind, a sports score I’m curious about, or a social network I want to check in on. But I am better when I resist.
Home + Office Study
Computer will not be online.
During my times of more intense productivity, the times I study and write, I have to go into lockdown mode. I use software called Freedom to keep my computer offline for a set duration of time. When I have access to the internet I am tempted to waste a few minutes, but without it I take more productive breaks when needed. This keeps my mind on the task at hand. When able to get online, my mind frequently drifts.
No online reading.
Saturday is Sabbath day for me. This is the day I unplug from all the work I do Sunday through Friday. On this day I will not read online, instead choosing to read books or previously downloaded articles, blogs, or editorials. I also avoid apps that are work related, such as Slack.
I have been an early adopter on many social media platforms, only to find them highly addictive and distracting for me. I admire people who handle them strategically and maturely, but I have not been able to do so. At this point, my social media iRule is simple. Twitter only, and not on my phone.
Sports / News
Internet articles and updates after 4:00pm.
I am a sports guy. It doesn’t sound spiritual, but I really like the sporting world. I am also interested in the news of the day. But they can be distracting and take my mind off the job of the day. Therefore, I wait to check internet articles and updates until after 4:00pm daily. This helps me get a full work day in before relaxing with some mindless entertainment.
So, there you have it. I know all this doesn’t sound very monastic, but this is me. I live on earth and need to navigate it well. I’m not trying to create a law for you. This is just how I do this stuff. Perhaps it is helpful for you to see one way of going about things.
I do want to mention an area you might be wondering about: text messages. Those things have become a beast in the last few years, haven’t they? I often receive (and even send) texts that are more like emails. How do I handle those?
My strategy has been to sync up my text messages with my email inbox. As an Android phone owner, I use MightyText for this, but iPhoners could use iMessage in a similar way. If I receive a monster text I politely reply that I will get back to them when I have time to respond. Then, when checking my email and Slack, I will reply at that time. I hope that helps.