I grew up on the internet.
I learned to type on a keyboard in fifth grade, got my first cellphone - a sleek, silver Motorola Razr - when I was 12, and though I could only send 20 texts per month, I learned how to use that phone faster than my parents could say “never mind!” I taught my grandmother how to use a computer, and I fell victim to Facebook when I was beginning high school.
But compared to many of my friends back then, I led a pretty analog life. Our house had one TV with, like, 10 channels, and I spent a lot of time outside. But still, I have always struggled with staying focused at work. Even when I’m happily typing away, BAM, out of nowhere comes a strong, inexplicable urge to check for new likes on Instagram or to start shopping for a new couch.
The first key to overcoming roadblocks is to recognize them. When I realized this bad habit of distraction while in college, I devised a number of tactics to battle it. Here are a few of them.
Always Have Snacks
Often it’s the simple desire for a good snack that causes my distraction. My head starts to lean to the side, lazily eyeing the blinking cursor in front of me, while my brain dreams about cheese, chocolate, or popcorn. It’s time to take a break, or else I’ll lose hours to excruciating, slow-moving work.
It’s easy, in that moment of desperate distraction, to convince yourself that not eating the snack is a virtuous sign of self-control. But if you do that, you’ll be pining for that delicious grub all along. Take a break and eat the snack. It’ll save you a headache, promise.
Go Stare at a Tree
This is a real thing. Taking the time to go for a walk or sit in the woods works wonders. When I start feeling anxious and frustrated while working, trees are something I seek out. A bit of fresh air and some time staring up at a forest canopy immediately makes my irritations seem insignificant.
It’s hard to be frustrated with yourself when you remember how small you are in the grand scheme of things. If you can’t dash out the door to a park or forest, a nice houseplant or desk succulent, at the very least, will do you good.
Brush Your Teeth
There is a stagnant and stiff feeling I get when I’ve been sitting in one spot for too long. My solution? I brush my teeth. It reminds me of morning time, when I stand sleepily in front of the mirror brushing my chompers while gaping at the ever-ridiculous bird’s nest inspired hair on my head - the time of day when possibilities are still endless.
It helps to channel that feeling when you’re at a roadblock later in the day. And a minty toothpaste has a knack for waking up your senses and refreshing your brain.
Don’t Force It
Nothing distracts me more than simply not wanting to do the work. As a freelancer, it’s customary for me to plan my days out, task by task. This is a good practice and I recommend doing it. But my schedule becomes problematic when I sit down to work on an assignment and I’m just not feelin’ it. As I quietly resent my organized planner, any attempt to squeeze words out of my keyboard and write a terrible first draft in the process is fruitless. Until I remind myself that I’ll be in a better place to work on it the next day.
If you can be brave enough to just walk away from the work for an hour (or day), and revisit the assignment when you’re actually in the mood for it, everyone wins - you’ll be happier while working and your audience or customer will be happier with the work you produce.
If I had to sum these tactics up in a single distraction-buster you can utilize: listen to yourself. These four methods of mine were thought up almost entirely based on my instincts. Your gut will point you to the best solution for your problem. The next time you find yourself scratching your head and staring out the window with a blank screen in front of you, remember that depriving yourself of what your mind and body needs won’t help you be more productive. Take a mindful moment to figure out what you’re really craving. Then indulge yourself.