Unplug & Recharge//

If Your Willpower’s Gone Out the Window, Here’s How to Deal

Perhaps all you need is a little distraction.

Courtesy of  tang90246 / Getty Images 

Product designers like me have spent decades removing barriers to make our favorite modern distractions—from email to Twitter to Instagram to YouTube—as easy to access as possible. If you want to beat distraction and make time for things that matter, I recommend bringing those barriers back.

Below are three tips all based on the same philosophy: The best way to defeat distraction is to make it harder to react. By adding a few steps that get in the way of checking Facebook, catching up on the news, or turning on the TV, you can short-circuit the cycle that makes these products so sticky. After just a few days with tactics, you can create a new set of defaults: from distracted to focused, from reactive to intentional, and from overwhelmed to in control. It’s all about creating a little inconvenience. When distraction is hard to access, you don’t have to worry about willpower. You can channel your energy into making time instead of wasting it.

Here are three simple techniques you can try today:

1. Log Out

Typing in your username and password is a hassle, so websites and apps make sure you don’t have to do it very often. They encourage you to stay logged in, leaving the door to distraction wide open.

But you can change the default. When you’re done using email, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever, log out. The option is available on every website and also in every app on every smartphone. It might not be obvious, but it’s always possible. And next time they ask if you want to “Remember me on this device,” don’t check the box.

To supercharge this tactic, try changing your passwords to something crazy, annoying to type, and impossible to remember. Personally, I like [email protected], but that’s just me. Store your impossible-to-remember passwords in a password manager app so that you can sign in if necessary, but make it an intentional hassle.

2. Put Your Toys Away

Picture this: You’re ready to get to work. Maybe it’s on a short story you’ve wanted to write or a proposal you need to get done for work. So you grab your laptop, flip open the screen, type in your password, and…

“LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” Every browser tab screams at you. Your email automatically refreshes to show a dozen new messages. Facebook, Twitter, CNN… headlines flash, notifications pop up all over the place. You can’t start on your project just yet—you’ve got to tend to those tabs first and see what’s new.

Now picture this: You grab your laptop, flip open the screen, and then… you see a beautiful photograph on your desktop and nothing else. No messages. No browser tabs. You signed out of email and chat at the end of the day yesterday, confident that if something urgent came up overnight, someone would call or text you. The silence is blissful. You’re ready to rock.

Reacting to what’s in front of you is always easier than doing what you intend. And when they’re staring you right in the face, tasks such as checking email, responding to a chat, and reading the news feel urgent and important—but rarely are. If you want to set yourself up for focus, we recommend putting your toys away.

That means signing out of apps like Twitter and Facebook, closing extra tabs, and turning off email and chat at the end of each day. Like a well-behaved kid, clean up after yourself when you’re done. Take it a step further and hide the bookmarks bar in your browser and configure your settings so that your homepage is something unobtrusive (like a clock) rather than something noisy (like a collection of sites you visit frequently).

Think of the two minutes it takes to straighten up after yourself as a small investment in your future ability to be proactive—not reactive— with your time.

3. Fly Without Wi-Fi

One of my favorite things about airplanes (apart from the sheer wonder of flying through the air) is the enforced focus. During a fight, there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do, and even if there were, the seat belt sign requires you to keep your butt in your chair. The strange parallel universe of an airplane cabin can be the perfect opportunity to read, write, knit, think, or just be bored—in a good way.

But even on an airplane, you have to change a couple of defaults to make time. First, if your seat has a screen, turn it off when you sit down. Second, if your airplane has Wi-Fi, don’t pay for it. Make these two choices at the beginning of your flight, fasten your safety belt, and enjoy making time for yourself at 35,000 feet.

Reprinted (or Adapted) from MAKE TIME: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day © 2018 by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. Published by Currency, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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