When we get distracted, it always happens for a reason. Some trigger causes the distraction.
If you can learn to identify your common triggers, you can develop strategies to mitigate or eliminate them, helping to improve your focus.
One method of doing this is to create a trigger log: a log of every time you got distracted and why.
Use the worksheet at the end of this book or create a spreadsheet with the following columns:
- Day of Week
What day of the week was it? Fridays have a different distraction profile than Mondays or Wednesdays.
What was time of day? As our energy and focus shifts throughout the day, so does our distractibility.
How were you feeling? Tired? Hurting? Nervous? What was your environment like? Hot? Cloudy? Noisy? Writing these things down can help you become aware of non-obvious triggers.
- Primary Task
What were you working on when you got distracted?
What caused you to be distracted, as far as you can tell?
What did you do to be distracted? What activity or state did you switch into?
How long were you distracted for?
Did you get back to your primary task, and if so, how?
Was there anything else you want to remember for when you look at this log later?
You may not catch yourself immediately after you were distracted. That’s okay. Take the time to record in your log as soon as you notice you are distracted and try to remember as much as you can about the trigger.
Once you start paying attention to your triggers, you’ll start noticing your distractions sooner, and get more skilled at identifying their causes.
Internal vs External Distractions
Triggers can be internal or external.
Outside triggers are the easiest to understand. If you get a notification on your phone, that’s an obvious distraction trigger.
Internal triggers are trickier. Were you feeling hungry? Was your bladder getting full? Did anxiety about a task build to the point where it took over?
Learning how to identify internal triggers involves connecting with our body and mind more—becoming more aware of what our mental and physical states are—so we can address them before they control us.
Diffusing these triggers can be as simple as taking a deep breath or pausing a moment to let the feeling drain out of our body and pass.
These are some of the trickiest triggers to identify, so don’t worry if you don’t recognize these right away. As you put the effort toward tracking your triggers, awareness will come.
Breaking Free of Distractions
Once you have spent time logging your distractions, scan through your log and see if you can identify any common themes.
Are there certain triggers that occur frequently? What strategies can you employ to avoid these triggers, or, if they cannot be avoided, avoid getting distracted when these triggers occur?
Written rules can be useful to help minimize the decisions you need to make when these triggers occur, and make it easier to implement tactics to support your rules.
If you get antsy when hitting a challenging part of a task, and distract yourself by “taking a break”, write down the rule:
Whenever I am feeling antsy, I must continue with my current task for 5 minutes before taking a break.
Waiting 5 minutes gives time for the urge to subside.
You can refine this rule and add a timer as a tactic to support it by re- writing it as:
Whenever I am feeling antsy, I will set a timer for 5 minutes and continue with my current task until it rings before taking a break.
This moves the adherence of your rule from your subjective experience of time, which can be fudged, to an external, objective timekeeper.
For more details on how you can use written rules to manage yourself better, read the Written Rules chapter.