You are bored. You check your phone for some kind of notification. It’s a new “like” on Instagram, or Facebook or LinkedIn or some other social media site. Pretty soon your entire Sunday morning has gone by with scanning aimlessly on various sites. You meant to start writing that article. Or mow the grass. Or call your brother. But somehow the whole day has seemed to slip away to screen time with nothing productive to show for it.
This disengagement from the here and now rolls on. The constant distraction of “screen” time whether it be web surfing, channel surfing or playing video games is taking us away from the present moment. And when you are distracted? You procrastinate. You put the project off. It’s too overwhelming to take the first step so you escape into screen time. Or as Dr. Hallowell says in his book, Crazy Busy, “A modern addiction, screen-sucking is like smoking cigarettes: Once you’re hooked, it is extremely hard to quit.” When you are sucked into a screen, you are caught up there and you are disengaged from everything else.
So here are 6 steps to taking action. Now:
- Cut out the distractions. Full disclosure here – I have been trying to get started on this post for the last two hours on a Sunday morning. I had my phone next to me. I kept picking it up and looking for notifications. So what did I do? I put it in the kitchen to charge. All my social media sites are shut now and my email is closed on my computer. No more distractions. So now I am finally writing. I know there are apps out there that will shut down notifications while you are on your phone or laptop. I try and cut out distractions by eliminating the notifications through the settings on my electronic devices. You cannot focus on the project in front of you when your mind is distracted.
- Work on a computer or laptop instead of something smaller. As Amy Cuddy found in her studies outlines in her book, Presence, “As hypothesized, compared to participants working on larger devices (e.g. a Mac computer), participants who worked on smaller devices (e.g. an iPad) behaved less assertively– waiting longer to interrupt an experimenter who had made them wait, or not interrupting at all.” So you are making yourself small when you are hunched over your phone, less important. They call this “text neck” or “iHunch.” As the study showed, it makes you less assertive. This must be part of the reason why I rarely write when I am on the road since I don’t travel with a laptop. I’m turned off by the feeling of being small and powerless on my phone.
- Eat that frog. This is a phrase coined by Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Brian Tracy advocates starting with the biggest ugliest item on your to-do list first thing. It helps you have momentum to start taking action on other things. Otherwise, you start filling your day with little items that don’t have an impact or really matter. Pick the thing with the most significant impact and start doing it first. You also have more energy first thing in the morning and, for most people, it’s when you do your best work. First and foremost, Eat that Frog!
- Make bite size action items. So instead of Write a book as your action item list Start outline for book or Decide title for book or Research three articles for book. Whew. Sounds a lot easier than taking on an entire book in a day. When you are overwhelmed with the whole project, you become immobilized. Frozen. Anxious. Take one little bite and take it on. It’s empowering. The feedback I get from most of my clients is that through coaching they’ve been able to break things down and realize positive forward progress. Smash up the project into pieces that will spur action.
- Set a timer for thirty minutes. You will think I am crazy but I don’t exactly look forward to writing. I’m fine once I get started. I get in the zone or flow and it’s a great experience. But getting started? I have a hard time getting off the starting block. So I looked at my clock on my computer and said, “OK. Give it 30 minutes. Devote 30 minutes to writing this post.” So once I get past coming up with a title and direction for the post I am in the zone. It’s now been an hour and all I need is one more bullet. I’m long past the 30 minutes but it gets me in the chair and off to a start. See if setting a timer will get you to start.
- Do it now. After teaching several classes of Franklin Covey’s “5 Choices to Extraordinary Results“, I realized that I was procrastinating with little tasks. I would think, “If I can’t finish it before my next meeting, then forget it. I’ll move it out until tomorrow.” Suddenly I realized that I didn’t have to completely finish the task before the next meeting. There is a perfectionism tied up in the attempt to get items finished before the meeting. So now if I have 5 minutes to spare before a meeting, I will knock out paying some bills or draft an email to a client. I no longer wait for the perfect window to complete the task. What I have found is that I can complete a lot more than I thought by not waiting for the perfect moment. It’s amazing what I can get done in 5 minutes. Do it now.
I remember a coach of mine, Michele Woodward, told me some time ago that what I get done on my worst day is more that most folks get done on their best day. Acknowledge that you are more productive than the average worker. Envision that you are productive and action oriented and you will be. But first? Put away your phone.