Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Overcome Distraction & Do Work That Matters

Art is hard. Selling is hard. Writing is hard. Making a difference is hard.
–Seth Godin

The first rule of doing work that matters is this: show up. Get to work so you can start making a difference. Of course, this is a no-brainer, so why do we not do it? We get distracted.

Life is too short artwork

Image credit: Gina Musa.

Often, we go to the place where we work without actually going to work. We let the demands of other people’s schedules dictate what we do and how we do it. We chase “skinny rabbits” that won’t be worth the reward once we catch them.

I struggle with distractions all the time. Every day, the Resistance rears its ugly, evil head and tries to lure me away from the work that matters. And that has to stop.

Just last night, I read this wonderful quote from Mr. Godin:

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. It requires persistence and dedication, which both require focus, something I’m not particularly — hey, look a bird!

You have an Enemy. So do I. Call it the Devil or Resistance or plain old distraction. But it’s a real adversary, prowling around you, waiting for just the right moment to strike and consume you. To destroy the work that you’re trying so hard to create.

Your job is to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Each day is a new day, and the temptations to slack off or procrastinate present themselves anew every single moment we put our hands to the plow and get to work. And each time, the Resistance has another chance to defeat you. Every. Single. Day. This battle never ends, never goes away. There is never a ceasefire or surrender. You will always be under attack as long as you are alive.

So what’s the solution? Well, here are 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 right. You have control over who you are, what you do, and the person you become.
  3. Show up. There’s not much more to it. Just do the work. It’s hard and it’s painful and if everyone did it, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But we all know that’s not the world we live in. So excuse yourself from that pointless conversation, close the door, and dig in the work you were born to do. It’ll feel good when you’re done, I promise.
  4. Work smarter, not harder. When we get distracted, we get frustrated and sometimes beat ourselves up. This is unproductive and self-defeating; it’s what the Resistance wants you to do. Instead, do what Neil Fiore suggests: practice delayed gratification. Reward spurts of hard work with a short-term “distraction” (like checking email or going for a walk or grabbing a cookie).

Distraction is not the artist’s friend, and it’s antagonistic to the creative process. The Enemy is inside you, looking to subvert and sabotage your work. Don’t let it. There’s too much at stake here. Yes, your job is hard — that’s why only you can do it.

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. To get 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!!

  • Tony S

    I looked for the bird. :(

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Hah!

  • http://www.offgridworship.com Lynn

    From the title, I knew this post would be helpful. You went far beyond my expectations. You nailed it.

  • Abby Hatch

    Well said! Thank you.