Raise your hand if this has happened to you:
You sit down at your desk to start writing and you have every intention to get a lot done. Unfortunately, there’s a pile of student papers on the desk. You begin to think about grading them, then you remember you have to make photocopies for the next class, and did you remember to put that book on reserve in the library?
Now, time has passed and you haven’t written anything. Even worse, you’re no longer in your “writing zone” because you’re worrying about all of these teaching-related issues. You decide writing is a wash, and you just give up. You can try to write tomorrow, but you have to teach that class and who likes writing after teaching?
Distraction can derail our best plans. We don’t get distracted because we’re lazy or because we’re willfully looking for anything to do besides the task at hand (although that does happen). Sometime, there is no deep psychological reason underlying our distraction. We just have a ton of crap to get done and we can’t always compartmentalize.
The good news is that these types of superficial distraction are relatively simple to deal with. Here are some suggestions for getting back on track.
Eliminate the sources of distraction.
Take the pile of papers off your desk. Shut off your email. Keep your door closed or work away from your office. By doing any or all of these things, you’re creating an environment that encourages you to focus.
Work in short spurts.
If you are easily distracted this can be incredibly powerful. The longer you work, the more opportunities you have to be distracted. That’s why it’s important to start with a small goal – say 25 minutes. There’s a reason the pomodoro technique is so popular – because it works!
This strategy works for grading, reading, writing, revising, even going through email. It’s easier to focus on the sound of your voice than words on a screen.
Experiment with apps and activity.
Some people swear by music apps like brain.fm. Meditating or taking short walks in between work sessions is also effective. If you’re distracted because you’re restless, a bit of physical activity can make a difference.
Check in with yourself.
Are you cold, tired, hungry, or thirsty? Any of these feelings can cause distraction. You may be able to work through them for a short period of time, but eventually they will take a toll.
Distraction comes in many different forms. The suggestions I discuss above work for me and many of my clients, but it’s important for you to try different approaches, and realize that what might work on one occasion may not work the next day. That’s why it’s important to keep trying, and not to get discouraged. A bit of self-reflection and experimentation will go a long way!