Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Overcome Distraction and Do Work that Matters

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The first rule of doing work that matters, according to Seth Godin, is this: Go to work on a regular basis.

As someone on Twitter recently said, this is a no-brainer. So why do we not do it?

Because often, we go to the place where we work without actually going to work. In other words, we get distracted.

Gapingvoid Linchpin Series - Hugh MacLeod

I struggle with distraction all the time. Every day, the Resistance rears its ugly, evil head and tries to allure me away from doing work that matters. I read this last night:

Art is hard. Selling is hard. Writing is hard. Making a difference is hard. When you’re doing hard work, getting rejected, failing, working it out — this is a dumb time to make situational decision about whether it’s time for a nap or a day off or a coffee break…

The first five years of my solo business, when the struggle seemed never-ending, I never missed a day, never took a nap…

-Poke the box

Making a difference is hard, because it requires persistence. It requires real dedication. And that requires focus, something I’m not particularly — hey, look a bird!

You have an Enemy.

Call it the Devil or the Resistance or distraction. But it’s a real enemy, prowling around you, waiting for the right moment to strike. To devour you. To destroy the work that you’re trying to create.

Each day is a new day, and the temptations to slack off or procrastinate present themselves anew every day. And each time, the Resistance has yet another chance to defeat you (and me).

Every. Single Day. This battle never ends.

What’s the solution? I have a few practical tips for how to overcome distraction:

  1. Name the problem. You have an Adversary. You’re not inherently lazy, necessarily. Everyone gets distracted. Everyone needs an occasional course correction. The first step to slaying this dragon is recognizing the Resistance. But have hope: the very fact that you are facing Resistance means that you are probably doing work that matters.
  2. Take responsibility. You can help this problem. You can grow. (And so can I, I hope…) “The Devil made me do it” isn’t quite enough (unless you’re Anthony Hopkins in that recent, creepy movie about demon possession; then, maybe you have an argument).
  3. Show up. Do the work. There’s not much more to it. It’s hard and painful and if everyone did it, I wouldn’t have to be writing this post. Excuse yourself from the conversation, close the door, and dig in. It’ll feel good when you’re done. I promise.
  4. Work smarter, not harder. When we get distracted, we get frustrated and can browbeat ourselves. This is unproductive and self-defeating; this is what the Resistance wants you to do. Instead, do what Neil Fiore suggests: practice delayed gratification. Reward spurts of hard work (an hour or two) with a “distraction” (15 minutes of checking email).

How do you overcome distraction? What’s your “brass knuckles” of choice for giving a hefty blow to the Resistance? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • Terry Smith

    Whatt’s my brass knuckles against the Resistance? The Beatles: The White Album.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      heck yes! while my guitar gently weeps. love that album.

  • http://www.edwardpaz.com Edward Paz

    Great post Jeff!

    I struggled with this until the beginning of this year when I decided I would overcome the Resistance by committing beforehand that I would post one inspirational blog entry per day.

    Setting a small, doable goal like that has helped me do work that matters even when I don’t feel like it!

    “Every. Single Day. This battle never ends.” – Loved that!

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      You’re a great example for the rest of us Edward.

  • Anonymous

    I loved this post.

    I’m that guy who is EASILY distracted.

    Glancing over your blog, it appears you write a lot of about writing…. which I need.

    I’m a new subscriber!

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      Awesome. Thanks, Duane! (I have those same problems. I was preaching to myself with this post.)

  • http://twitter.com/angiebattle Angie Battle

    Oh my! I am definitely a “Look, something shiny” kind of gal when trying to accomplish a task…Relevant, practical reminders of how to strap the blinders on and forge ahead. Nicely communicated.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      Thanks!

  • Butchmaltby

    Good stuff here friend…

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      Thanks butch. That means a lot.

  • http://divineblueprints.wordpress.com Immanuel Caleb

    I certainly face this. And you are right – the resistance is daily!

    I like putting Jon Foreman’s ‘Limbs and Branches’ on when work gets stressful. The acoustic guitar has it’s way of soothing headaches. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      love Jon Foreman

  • Anonymous

    Great post Jeff – I needed to read it!

    I get distracted a LOT, but I’ve learned that if I turn off my cell phone, close out my FB and Twitter windows and my email, and make a to-do list, I am often a lot more productive.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      thanks, jason. thanks a great practice.

  • http://twitter.com/BradBlackman Brad Blackman

    I find I’m actually most productive when I get out of the house and go to a coffee shop and just hunker down. I can do about 5-6 hours’ worth of work that wouldn’t happen when I’m at home. Which is great when I’m working on a design project on the laptop, but it doesn’t work for the painting I do. I see myself renting a studio in the near future, once I’m able to afford it.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      Me too

  • Pingback: How I Get Things Done: A Creative's Perspective | Goins, Writer

  • http://UntanglingTales.com/ Amy Jane (Untangling Tales)

    Late to the comments, but I have to say my favorite part of your list is naming the enemy. I have this idea of finding a really good image of a wicked dragon or something. (Something way more threatening than this: http://bit.ly/rpLcSU).

    It helps to imagine the resistance outside myself– something that can be fought.

    That Fantasy is sort of my framework just enhances this analogy. {grin}

  • Eleonora, writer, Italy.

    I have spent the last hour and a half discovering your blog, reading your every post with a sense of compulsion! And finally I landed on this brilliant nugget. (amongst many brilliant nuggets!)
    So I’m going off to work and show up for myself, once and for all!  As soon as I finish this post I will turn off the mail and face “my creative clutter” ,(the paper copy of my manuscript in progress is somewhere in there!) 
    Thanks a mill!
    Eleonora

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome… a mill. ;)

    • Stacy Wyatt

      Thanks for sharing this- It sure gives me encouragement. :)

  • Frankie

    Hah. I’ve just spent an hour procrastinating… reading your blog. Oops. :)
    Better go park my butt in another chair for a couple of hours, with no distractions.
    Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Nice piece. I’m thinking about this one a lot at the moment.

    One thing, I try to remove all metaphors of war from my life. I don’t think they help. So instead of viewing it as a daily battle, I view it as a daily opportunity to do exactly what I most deeply want.

    Framing it that way gives me no sense of guilt when I do something I don’t truly want to do (distractions), and motivation to do better in future.

  • http://twitter.com/PatWooldridge Patricia Wooldridge

    My computer faces a wall, though there are 4 windows in the room. Light and bright. In and near my work space are objects (my horse collection, and the horse books, which I choose not to look at when working—but I know they’re there) that energize me. Believe it or not, they keep me in the mode. Many of them, I’ve had for a lot of years.  I’m still pretty much a kid at heart. When writing for kids, this helps. Greatly. I try to do the kind of writing for kids that I would have wanted to read when I was their age. Horse oriented, but with a twist. I visualize them reading the finished, published work. There can’t be time to get distracted.

    • Stacy Wyatt

      I like your idea of a specific work place. Writing – working- just anywhere doesn’t work for me. I’m too scattered- pun intended, maybe not! Lotta windows a voracious temptation for me!

  • http://undistractedchristian.com/ Tyler Hess

    There are many, many, many distractions in this world. I start my day with God and work from there. It’s easier to be undistracted when you know why focusing matters

    • Stacy Wyatt

      If we all did that the world would be a different place :).

  • F. Glenn Bowen

    “And that requires focus, something I’m not particularly — hey, look a bird!”
     - Lol!!

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