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.