Minding my own business (managing the distractions so I can focus on my life, my kids, and my writing)

In this über-distractified world we live in, minding our own business is becoming increasingly important.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the way I start my day in this regard.

Whose day is it, anyway?

If I get up and instantly tune in to what other people are doing, by turning on my phone and checking for email, texts, Skype messages, Facebook messages, app notifications and/or my Facebook news feed, timeline or notifications, my day starts off focused on other people’s business. (And, wow, when I put it all in a list like that it’s downright overwhelming. No wonder my brain feels cluttered.)

If I start my day this way, I spend the next 60 to 70 minutes — time when I want to be focused on my kids, getting my older boy to school and my baby boy settled for his nap — feeling distracted.

Things like this start twirling through my brain, even when I tell myself I’m just going to take a quick look at email to make sure nothing critical is happening that I need to take care of:

  • Sorting through all the details, step-by-step, for how to solve the latest technical problem du jour with my website upgrades.
  • Mentally composing replies to emails I've seen come in from clients, colleagues, and co-workers.
  • Tracking all the email reminders for the various school events and doctors appointments I just saw in my inbox.
  • Wondering about the cool article I saw from one of my favorite writers and when I'll get to finish reading it.
  • Mulling over my thoughts and replies to various conversations and intellectual ideas my friends and colleagues post about. 

Getting hooked

The thing is, my brain LOVES problem-solving and answering questions. It’s truly one of my strengths. In fact, I get a little bored when I don’t have a problem to solve and sometimes create problems so that I have something to work on (I like to call them projects to make it sound better. :) ).

But it’s hard to shut my brain off. ANY problem will set it on overdrive, working to solve it, even if it’s not one that is particularly meaningful or important to me. (Even inane random things I see, like “The top 20 songs from the 80s your kids should know the lyrics to!” sets my brain to wondering… “Wow, what songs are they? Do I know those songs? Is it really important that my kids know those songs? Do I even like those songs?” Make it stop!)

And when I’m walking to school with a sweet seven-year-old boy who wants to tell me all about the monsters he’s coming up with for his latest comic book, I don’t want my brain in distracted-mode or even problem-solving mode, I want it in listening mode.

And when I get back to the house with the baby to nurse and settle for his nap, I want to focus on his angelic, beautiful face shining up at me. I don’t want to be distracted by the noise of other people’s business.

And when I get to my desk, once he’s asleep and I’m ready to write, I don’t want my brain cluttered with obligations and distractions that other people’s desires and requests — even their PRESENCE — creates for me. I want my brain in creative problem solving mode for MY work.

I want to be minding my own business.

But what about staying in touch?

All this said, I DO want to stay in touch with my friends and community. As an introverted, highly sensitive writer who works from home and has a child under age one, it’s lovely to have so many ways to keep in touch with what the people I genuinely care about are doing. And this includes all the neat writers I’m getting to know online and the people I work with through my Writer’s Circle and coaching work.

Which is ALSO part of minding my business, literally.

So.

Obviously some of this is me working on my own ability to be present, calm, centered, and focused though things like exercise, mindfulness, etc.

But it’s also about the addictive nature of social media and the ever-present drive to consume information that so many of us are wrestling with right now.

I was fascinated that right after our newest son was born, I could not handle much input. I couldn’t talk on the phone for at least eight weeks after his birth — it was just too overstimulating. I also could not bear to have all the many pop-up notifications on my phone that I’d grown accustomed to over the years prior.

Think about WHY we’re doing it

I reached out to one of my go-to coaches for this, Jessica Michaelson, and asked for her input. She suggested I give some thought to what it provides for me personally, so that I could think of other ways to get those needs met. She said it often serves as a way for people to avoid uncomfortable feelings and to create short term positive feelings.

I definitely find myself reaching for my phone when I’m bored and looking for a “hit” of something “fun”. I also like seeing what other people are doing — but again, that pulls me out of my own world and into theirs (something not so great for an empathic person). I also get into trouble when I’m waiting for a response to something I've sent, like an email (this is particularly true when it's about something I’m nervous about or has an emotional charge for me).

It’s not even so much that I get distracted by social media when I’ve planned to write; I’m fairly solid on writing when I say I’m going to write. It’s that it is taking up too much space in my brain. I want to feel clearer headed for myself and for my kids.

So I have been cutting back, and I feel so much calmer. I’m also thinking of going back to one technology free day per week, though I’ll have to negotiate that with my son since we’ve now limited his screen time to weekends only and those are my easiest days to unplug. :)

And here’s the thing. I actually love all the technology. As much as it can be overwhelming, I’m enough of a gadget geek to really enjoy using these tools. I just want to make sure I’m using them effectively and enjoying of the experience, rather than having them whittle away at my time and psyche.

Systematically eradicating the systems

Here’s what I’ve done on a technical front to help myself deal with all this:

  • Turned off all notifications on my phone except text alerts.

  • Turned off almost all badges on apps (those ones that show the little red numbers telling you there’s a message to lure you into looking at them).

  • Keep my phone in silent mode except when I’m expecting an important phone call or text. This is most of the time. I also avoid giving my phone numbers out as much as possible, except to close friends and co-workers.

  • Keep my phone face down while I’m writing so if anything does pop up I’m not distracted by it.

  • Deleted games from my iPad and iPhone that I have gotten obsessive about playing with (don’t even get me started talking about the games that my older son and I call “working games” — those are such a huge temptation to a problem-solver like me!).

  • Deleted the Facebook app on my phone, while keeping Facebook messenger.

  • Turned off banner and badge notifications on my Mac and set the notification center to “do not disturb”.

  • Installed the News Feed Eradicator extension for Chrome on my Mac. Now what I see when I go on Facebook is a lovely quote reminding me to be strong or focus on what’s most important to me, while still allowing me to engage with people through the wonderful Facebook groups I’m part of and to work on my Just Do The Writing page and my own timeline as I need to.

  • I use Isolator or Composition Mode in Scrivener to black out my screen so I’m only seeing what I’m supposed to be working on. (I’m liking Scrivener’s Composition Mode even better than Isolator since it blacks out EVERYTHING other than my writing.)

Replacing the habit with something positive

In addition to all the deleting I'm doing, I’ve made sure to have options on my iPhone and iPad that are interesting and meaningful to me, like reading books in my Kindle app or in Weekend Read (for Scripts and PDFs), or using Byword to write. (All of these have a "dark mode" that works great for reading or writing next to a sleep baby at night!) 

I'm subscribed to the blogs and people I want to be reading -- so I don't have to find them online.

I make a point to engage with people online in ways that are fulfilling, like through my Writer’s Circle, where we track our daily writing and share our writing successes and challenges.

These is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle for me, because they are my replacements for the bad habits.

Now, when I find myself looking for that quick hit of “something interesting”, I ask myself what I’m REALLY looking for, and think about other ways to get it for myself.

In other words, I’m minding my own business.

 

 

Join the Writer's CircleIf you're looking for a meaningful place to be engaged in a conversation about your writing and strengthen your commitment to it, my Writer's Circle has a new session starting soon. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Yup, yup, yup. This is so relevant & timely, Jenna. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as I notice the ways that I go into avoidance or distraction mode online. I like a little fun distraction, but if I’m not intentional about it, especially when I’m tired, an hour can go by like the blink of an eye. And then I feel yucky afterwards, like I ate too much junk food. Maybe learning how to tune into the foods our bodies really need, even when surrounded by a million options, healthy & unhealthy, is an analogy for how we learn to navigate the information age.

    • Hi Rebecca, thank you for posting! I’m so glad it’s timely and pertinent for you. It’s been on my mind a lot lately too. Isn’t it interesting, that avoidance and distraction mode? The worst part (in my opinion) is that it FEELS “fun” but then it really ends up feeling YUCKY. And your junk food analogy is perfect — I was just thinking how going online feels like eating too much chocolate cake. The first bite is yummy (if it’s a GOOD chocolate cake) but the rest starts to feel really gross. I like the idea of tuning into our bodies as guidance for what we really need. For me, so far, I’ve been “listening” for the part of myself that knows which online activities are meaningless and draining my life force versus those that are meaningful and uplifting. It is also helping me to think about putting my own “business” (needs, wants, goals, desires, passions, SOUL) first. xo

  2. Excellent post, Jenna. Just what I needed to read tonight. Thank you! And also thanks for the great links. I hadn’t heard of some of them and will be checking them out. Tomorrow. Time to close down the computer now and give my oh-so-patient husband some attention. :-)

    • Mary, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! You’re welcome. I hope you find something wonderful and productive and useful for you in the links, and that your time with your charming husband was wonderful. xo

  3. Here are my suggestions for limited digital access to you as a human being; use what you can and ignore the rest. Or all of it.

    My computer is muted except for when I’m actually listening to a podcast or video. Most of my Internet access is in public so this helps prevent it from annoying others too.

    My phone is just a phone. An ‘old’ flip phone to be exact. Sure, it could access the Web but it’d be pretty slow. It takes tiny pictures, mostly of the inside of my pocket. It’s never connected to my laptop or Kindle. (I use the pay-and-talk system which keeps my phone bill small, perhaps not an option if you have lengthy or long distance calls.)

    Kindle is the only e-reader I use. Sometimes I use to access the Internet but it’s limited in what it can do. Which is fine.

    By rejecting the one-device-can-do-everything mentality I keep the overload at bay. Hope this helps.

    • Phyllis, thank you so much for taking the time to share what works for you! I mute my computer too, I don’t like all the beeps and clangs and notices from that one either — and I sure don’t want it waking up my kids! :)

      I’m still quite fond of my “smart” phone but I am focused on reminding myself that it’s a tool that requires wise use, just like internet access (we can choose to look at junk food for our brains or read inspiring articles from any location) or our computers themselves.

      Thank you so much for commenting. xo

  4. I just now read this, and thanks for the tip about News Feed Eradicator! For a long time, I’ve wished I could go directly to my favorite groups without seeing my newsfeed. I sign in with a perfectly good intention to go to a group, get distracted by everything else, an hour goes by, and I think “what am I doing?? This isn’t how I wanted to spend my time today!!” I installed the extension today, and it does exactly what I need.

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