The dog needs a walk. Your leg hurts. The dishes/grocery/laundry needs to be put away. You really should change your email signature. Is it time for a new header on your site? Maybe another color background for your Twitter profile page…
If you let the voices in your head – what esteemed writing teacher Natalie Goldberg calls your monkey mind – take over, you will have a very clean kitchen floor, but not much else to show for your work day. Distractions are everywhere, and you must guard against their infiltrating presence as firmly as you would guard against a thief in your home.
From email to laundry to researching your dog's itchy ear on petcare.com, the tasks that pull us away from our goals aren't inherently bad – and that's the problem. They seem like good, productive activities, something any fine upstanding home- or pet-owner would do. But there's only one problem: They aren't moving you closer to your goal. Instead, they're taking you farther away.
If you want to make big progress, you have to cut the distractions – no matter how worthwhile they seem. Here's how to keep your eyes on your prize and your seat in your desk chair (or wherever it belongs):
1. Make a list – and stick to it. The to-do list is like marching orders from your general. Make it and stick to it. You can rearrange the spice cabinet or de-tick Fluffy after you've finished your daily goals.
2. Do the tough stuff first. Get the hardest (and usually most value-packed) tasks out of the way early in the day. That way you won't be distracted by the minutiae of daily life that seem to breed and multiply with each passing hour.
3. Give yourself regular breaks. Sometimes, some of that “life” stuff has to be taken care of. Give yourself regular mini-breaks of 10 minutes a few times a day to take care of calls to the vet, kitchen floors, etc. But set a timer and drop what you're doing when your 10 minutes are up.
4. Keep a list of short tasks.One of the reasons we get pulled off track is that we come to a standstill. We've completed a big task and have yet to start the next round, or we're waiting to hear back from someone before we can proceed. These natural lulls are common places for our monkey mind to sneak in. Instead of allowing your imagination free rein, have a ready list of activities related to your goal that take less than 15 minutes. Pull out the list and knock something off instead of getting pulled away.
Be ruthless about banning any distractions from your life. Each minute you reclaim is like a huge stepping stone towards your goals.
Photo – Flickr:underminingme