February 28, 2017

A Life of Minimal Distractions

Some distractions can’t be helped. A family member needs attention. A neighbor’s dog barks. It starts to rain. Someone knocks at the door.

These distractions are part of the human condition. Most of them are fleeting.

But then the doctor’s office calls to confirm an upcoming appointment. The phone beeps with an email from a clothing store and a notification that someone likes a picture I shared. The next thing I know, I’ve spent twenty minutes online shopping or browsing through my feed. What was I even doing before?

These are distractions I have some degree of control over.

I can turn off my phone, for example (though as a married man with a kid, I may catch some flack for that). Other options come with less risk. I can disable notifications and only check my email certain times a day. I can curate most of the mail that comes into my inbox in the first place.

Then there are the distractions I invite.

I like public radio, but the news has a way of derailing a good morning and leaving me in a state of angst for much of the day. I turn it off and put on a podcast I find captivating, only to see that there are three episodes I’ve missed. I have to catch up. Now I’ve spent three hours of my day largely passive. I learned some things, but most of it wasn’t information I actively care about.

I return to the book I’ve been reading these past few days. After a while, I take a break to spend ten minutes in quiet meditation. Now I’m spending my time the way I actually want to.

Only a thought pops into my head while I’m meditating, and I open my laptop to search. The next thing I know, I’ve read nine wiki entries, visited three blogs, and watched eight YouTube videos. An hour has gone by that I could have spent reading or writing, and I don’t even remember the thought that sent me online in the first place!

I can get rid of an item every day and feel great about my accomplishment, but that doesn’t reduce the clutter in my mind. To do that, I must be careful what I allow in.

I now strive for a life of minimal distractions.

Stuff happens. I get that. But I don’t want to look back on my life after having spent countless hours burning through TV shows wondering why I didn’t write more. There’s no one to blame for that kind of distraction but me.

The question is, how do I do this?