The modern world is a battleground for your attention.
When companies build apps, produce television series or market products to you, they are fighting for your attention. This is because they know that where your attention goes, your dollars follow.
Attention is the most valuable resource on the planet right now — and most of us are giving it away without a second thought.
If all these companies and others value our attention so much, shouldn’t we value it for ourselves as well?
Well, yes, we should.
And we can do this by structuring our life and environment to eliminate the distractions that steal our attention, and claim it back for ourselves.
A Model for Distractions
Distractions that compete for our attention come in many forms.
They can be technological, from the ubiquitous technology we use every single day.
They can be habitual, formed by years of conditioning ourselves to act in certain ways.
They can be in our mind, in the form of a low-level constant hum of anxiety or stress.
And they can be environmental, which is the catch-all for all other attention-stealing distractions.
Eliminating Technological Distractions
It is easiest to start with technological distractions because they are obvious.
Everyone uses technology a lot nowadays, and it just kind-of makes sense that it all competes for our attention.
The objective here is to stop our devices and apps from stealing our attention when we don’t want them to.
A multi-faceted approach is the best way to do this.
1. Turn off any unused app notifications.
2. Block the websites that suck up your time and attention.
You can use apps such as:
3. Reduce the amount of noise in your technological experience.
This basically means reducing the number of ads you see by using something like uBlock Origin.
Note: If you work in online marketing, you may not want to do this as part of your role is likely to keep pace with online advertising developments.
4. Create technological separation so that you can focus.
This means setting up separate siloed accounts for your work and personal lives.
This could be:
- Separate emails.
- Separate logins on your computer.
- Separate computers.1is is a big part of why I use a Mac. I love video games, especially the one-hundred-hour RPG sort. And Mac just doesn’t support these games very well.
5. Tame your phone.
This means deleting apps that you don’t use and putting your phone in another room when you want to focus.
It could also mean getting a smartwatch — because ironically having your wrist buzz and looking at notifications there, will decondition you from reaching for your phone every time the screen lights up.
Eliminating Habitual Distractions
Let’s move from the physical world into our inner world.
Habits, good or bad, are the things that we do with regularity and consistency.
The bad habits, are the ones that distract us and steal our attention, like compulsively checking our social media feeds.
There is no one-size-fits-all with habits. But what you can do is try to cover all your bases by:
1. Changing your schedule so you don’t have time for habitual distractions.
If you want to meet the devil, have white space on your calendar.Grant Cardone
You can’t have habitual distractions if you don’t have time for them.
2. Create good habits to replace bad habits.
This could be replacing reading world-ending news every morning, with reading over your goals instead.
It could be snacking on healthy foods instead of junk food.
It could be waking up early instead of sleeping in.
I have a guide to creating supportive habits here.
Eliminating Mindset Distractions
Many people have a low-level hum of anxiety or worry that occupies their minds.
It could be related to their relationship, financial or health issues — anything really.
What happens if left unaddressed though, is that this low-level hum becomes a distraction. It occupies space in your mind, and your attention.
In traditional cultures these things are brushed off as “no big deal” because they are systematically present across generations of families.2i.e., people are repeating the mistakes of their parents, grandparents and so on.
But the truth is they are a distraction, and they do eat away at our attention. And in turn, they impact every single area of our lives.
Resolving mindset distractions is about working on your inner game. This could be an article in-and-of-itself, but a simplified version would be:
1. Taking the time to list out and confront our inner demons and issues, one-by-one.
2. Having a system of virtues in place to keep us on-track and moving in the right direction.
For example, treating focus and looking after our own well-being as virtues.
3. Having a system of vices in place so we know what to stay away from.
Update: That full article can be found here.
Eliminating Environmental Distractions
Environmental distractions are the catch-all for everything else that steals our attention.
If you find anything in your environment that draws your attention regularly and isn’t good for you… remove it.
Remove the triggers, the anchors, and anything that leads to distraction.
It could be snacks in the house. A video game console you need to unplug and box up. The social media apps on your phone.
It could also be shifting your environment entirely.
If you know that certain places suck up your attention, then don’t go to those places.
If walking past the dessert café means you will stop and buy something, then don’t walk past it.
If being in a certain group chat means you end up going out every weekend instead of working on your passion project, then leave that group chat.
If picking up your phone means you lose ten minutes browsing social media every time, then don’t pick up your phone.
What To Do Next
There are four major forms of distractions that compete for your attention:
With everything in this article, you can handle them one-by-one.
And once you have your attention freed up, you can put it into other things, like working towards your purpose, living your values or the goals you have for yourself.
You can also work towards this from another perspective by eliminating destructive snacking completely.
- This is a big part of why I use a Mac. I love video games, especially the one-hundred-hour RPG sort. And Mac just doesn’t support these games very well.
- i.e., people are repeating the mistakes of their parents, grandparents and so on.
Photos by jorge.l14, Rami Al-zayat, AbsolutVision, Ahmed Zayan.