Choosing Your Distractions

Date: Friday, February 18, 2011 by GTD Times Staff

This is a Community Contribution from Mike Vardy

Some people need silence to be productive. Some people need music. Some people need an extreme amount of light. Some people don’t need anything specific. Some people don’t need anything at all.

To anyone who falls into one “some” category, they are not likely to fall into another. There’s a subjective nature to working environments. The same goes for distractions.

For example, I can actually watch certain television shows in the background as I write. Now, it depends on what I’m working on, but generally when I’m creating content I can have the TV on and have it actually spur me on as opposed to distract me. I know well enough which shows these are (I’m looking at you professional wrestling), so I don’t put on shows that demand my exclusive attention. I also don’t try to work on stuff that demands the same kind of attention from me when I’m watching wrestlers defend championships either.

As I write this, I’m listening to music — music that has lyrics. I know a lot of people listen to instrumental music if they are going to have any on at all, but I can work either way. I also work fine with silence…but I generally save that for when everyone is asleep (before 8am and after 10pm), and that’s when I can get the “heavy lifting” done.

Distractions come in all shapes and sizes.  They can vary, depending on where you are and what you’re doing. Time of day has an impact on what you can not only do, but what you can take in. I find that the morning is my “set up” time for the day, so I like it mellow at first before I kick it into high gear. When I do kick it into that gear, I find that my musical selections tend to kick up a notch as well, both in terms of genre and volume. Depending on how my day goes, I find that the occasional distraction is warranted.

What are the things that distract me no matter what time of day it is? Email and social media sites are the usual culprits. But I’ve learned that the reward of getting stuff done is more valuable than reacting to stuff not done yet  (email), or hearing about what others are doing (social media). That’s not to say I don’t check in every once in a while, I have just decided that it will be only “once in a while” as opposed to “several times a day.”

If you’re not able to be productive (a la GTD), one of the things you need to do is a Distraction Check. If you find that silence isn’t helping you, try playing some music. If instrumental music doesn’t work, try some with lyrics. Maybe put on the television in the background while you work on low impact action items to see if you slow down at all. Change up your atmosphere. Mix it up.

Keep in mind that the more you discover what distracts you and what you can work with or around, the better equipped you’ll be to perform in different circumstances and environments.  This knowledge can also serve to “childproof” your working habits, as I’ve learned from personal experience.

6 Responses to “Choosing Your Distractions”

  1. Deanna says:

    I wrote this down and posted it on my desk:
    “The reward of getting stuff done is more valuable than reacting to stuff not done yet.”

    When I’m in flow, happily productive in the right areas (as I happen to be just now), that’s a great reinforcer of how and why I’m in that good spot. A high five to myself.

    When I’m struggling and distracted, that’s a great reminder of what it takes to get back to the good place. It covers a lot of territory.

    Whatever it says about me, I’m not terribly interested in what other people are doing at any random moment (which makes me an erratic and unreliable participant in social media, for better and not), so the last phrase isn’t a big one for me. (Though I might be tempted to shout it out to others who seem to be stuck in that unfathomable need to know what the other guy is doing *right* *now*. But I will refrain. I have lots of my own vices.)

    Also, I just added to my Weekly Review reminder: do a distraction check. That seems useful not just in the moment of distraction, but from the higher altitude of the weekly review. What has distracted me this week, and what’s likely to distract me next week? What’s the next action for solving that problem?

    Good stuff, Mike. Thanks for the article.

  2. Mike Vardy says:


    Thanks for your kudos and comment.

    I really like that quote and have added it to a list of motivational quotations that I keep handy. I have also made sure to have reminders of these things on my desktop, screensaver and iPad. Gentle reminders like that can be great triggers.

    Gotta go now, though. Wrestling is on. 😉

    Take care.

  3. Deborah says:

    It seems that housewives have been doing that for years. We all know that the ironing gets done faster while watching tv. And quilting circles accomplished both quilting work and social media. It seems we need to relearn what distractions work to help us be more productive.

  4. Martin says:

    “The reward of getting stuff done is more valuable than reacting to stuff not done yet.”

    Thanks Mike for a great motivational quote, and thanks Deanna for highlighting it from the article! I have similarly written the quote and posted it on a prominent spot on my desk.

  5. Mike Vardy says:

    Thanks for the praise, Martin.I guess when you have less “distraction items” around you can come up with some pretty powerful quotes!

    Glad you found the post useful — all the best.

  6. Amy says:

    The pretty weather outside while working inside can be easily remedied by a few minutes outside in the warm sun and fresh air right away if possible.

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