Tips to Deal with Distractions

Dr Mehmet Yildiz

What truly matters to you in your business and personal life?

Time is the most valuable asset, and chronic stress is the worst enemy for health. This piece is the story of how to create a delicate balance to become productive, stay mentally healthy and physically fit simultaneously, and sustain motivation with joy.

This article using first-person narration reflects hard-learned life lessons from a person moving from being a perfectionist to a pragmatic achiever in business and personal life. The simple and proven techniques I introduce can be transformational for those who suffer from unnecessary stress in the business world, school, and personal life.

How can we produce more with less time, effort, and pressure?

I explain with simple examples.

Achieving more in the minimum required time and effort is a valuable business proposition. This principle became a lifestyle choice for me. The old advice to always work hard is not necessarily the best approach to be productive and achieve more. The equation misses the smart practice. Let me explain.

When I was younger, as a perfectionist, I struggled a lot. My stress substantially increased and adversely affected my life. My nervous system had difficulty in dealing with the pressure.

In the early 90s, during my doctoral studies, I met an exceptional supervisor and mentor. He was assigned as my thesis supervisor. His goal was to help me complete my assignments on time.

Due to the nature of research studies, I quickly got distracted and kept straying to a myriad of other attractive ideas that were not necessarily essential to my research field. The shiny object syndrome was the correct term for my condition.

This supervisor was unique. He, fortunately, knew my condition well and acted on fixing the issue gently and effectively.

Whenever we met, he asked me what essential tasks I planned on that specific day. He quickly reviewed them and kept asking which ones were the priority for me. When I pointed them out, he provided immediate feedback.

His emphasis was on critical goals that would contribute to completing my studies on time. He introduced me to the term “effortlessly”. It was paradoxical to me. I didn’t know how to complete a research degree effortlessly. Initially, it did not sound right to me.

He focussed on my stress. He told me that 80% of my pressure was unnecessary. He emphasized the harmful effects of stress and anxiety on creativity, productivity, and, more importantly, on my physical and mental health.

He asked me to focus on only the things that really matter. He confirmed that this approach would reduce the unnecessary load I used to carry on my shoulders before meeting him.

Since learning was a passion for me, my curiosity was causing digression towards many different unrelated areas. This traditional approach was creating unnecessary pressure for me.

After teaching me about the importance of priories, my supervisor subsequently taught me the importance of the 80/20 rule in making my priorities.

I was following traditional time management. He told me time could not be managed. Instead, he wanted me to manage my priorities.

The third point he focused on was removing distractions. As a technology enthusiast, I used to carry lots of devices, hoping to help me with time management. But in hindsight, they were distractions. He asked me to turn off all appliances when reading, experimenting, or drafting a chapter.

When I learned to complete small tasks with a methodical approach and focusing them in priority order, I completed my research project and submitted my comprehensive thesis on time.

The invaluable lessons that I learned from my supervisor also guided me in my professional life. I applied these principles to my work.

Focussing on my goals, identifying my priorities and acting on them made substantial improvement in my career. I served with pleasure and remained calm and composed even during difficult situations.

As a next important goal, I removed all clutter, not only tangible ones but also intangible ones. Why is this important? Let me explain.

The wiring of our brain naturally causes impulses. The brain strives for instant gratification as a default. It searches for rewards with tiny spikes of dopamine to elevate our mood instantly. But this is ephemeral. We know that dopamine surges do not stay long in the brain.

When I realised I was losing valuable time due to distractions with no tangible achievement, I felt guilty. Shiny objects created a lot of attraction. But they were traps. After recognizing these traps manifesting as distractions, I learned to monitor them. I took practical actions and developed beneficial habits to eliminate them from my life.

Those traps and distractions not only stole my valuable time, but they also consumed my mental energy, reduced my motivation, and caused procrastination. Most of the traps causing procrastination due to brain drainage were preventable.

From my experience, distractions can be dangerous to achieving our goals and producing desired outcomes. After removing known distractions and not allowing technology to dictate my life, I made significant progress.

The habit was blocking time for a priority task and focus on it with no interruption and distraction. I eliminated multi-tasking entirely. It never worked for me. Eliminating multitasking contributed to reducing stress and completing priority tasks on time effortlessly.

I used the term effortlessly on purpose because when I focus on a priority task with no distraction, I easily go into a flow state and produce efficiently and effectively.

As a best practice, I produce and achieve my goals by removing distractions and blocking specific times.

Report writing is usually a tedious and boring task, but it is mandatory in my profession. When I need to write an urgent and essential report, I block an hour to write it even it may sometimes take 20 minutes. I turn off my phone, turn of all other devices and notifications, close my study door, make my bottle of water, tissues, paper, pen, and reference materials ready on my desk. The rest comes easily because I trained my brain to get natural dopamine surge after completing my task, not from the instant gratifications from emails, phone calls or social media notifications.

Time management is a misnomer. Managing time was exhausting, demotivating and unproductive. My solution was focussing on priorities. When concentrating on my priorities, the remaining activities are dimmed temporarily, and they stay in the background.

Another habit is asking a question when dealing with an object or case. Whenever I look at an object in my home or office, I ask myself - do I really need this? Or - can I do my job without this object? These simple questions contribute to an uncluttered lifestyle.

After many years of trial and error, I became a minimalist. My spartan life satisfies me, gives me joy, and makes me more creative and productive. Eliminating clutter turned out to be a performance booster for me. I experienced a sense of freedom.

I also added minimalism to my writing practice. I stopped adding unnecessary case studies from bland fictitious characters, unnecessary hypothetical situations with no benefit to the core ideas, and excessive historical information.

When I cut the clutter in verbal and written communication by being direct to the point, the quality of communication substantially improved.

Authors who gave me the best insights were those who were providing clarity and simplicity in their content. I modelled them because I was attracted to simplicity, clarity, brevity, and impact.

Saving time and reducing stress requires producing more with less time, effort, and pressure. To remind my readers once more, time is precious for all of us, and choric stress is the enemy of our physical and mental health.

Thank you for reading my perspectives.

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I write about important and valuable life lessons. My goal is to delight my readers. My content aims to inform and engage my readers. I'm a technologist, cognitive scientist, and postdoctoral researcher, with four decades of experience.

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