Tips For Handling Distraction

On the path to a computer life of reasonable expectations, there will be distractions.

I could make a diary out of successes and failures at handling them but it would be quite long so I’ll cut straight to the tips because I know everyone’s in a hurry.

The last 200 people to my website have stayed an average of 56 seconds. A website that’s taken me over six years to create is being consumed at the rate of 56 seconds per visitor.

Since there are over half a billion websites online constituting trillions of pages with less than 7 billion people on the planet to look at them all, I’ll consider myself flattered. Although I know, in truth, it’s a just a crap shoot. At least, that’s how I find my way around.

Your mileage may vary depending on your age and state of health but, for me, the idea is not to get up in the morning and go at 0.ANCESTORS, for example, with a vengeance til I drop into bed again at midnight. It’s more of a casual thought; flavor of the day, if you will.

Handling Distraction, ActionOutline

When I’m not at my computer but going around doing my regular human-being things on auto-pilot, I’m also lightly focused on ANCESTORS. Anything on my mind that I should add to my list?

Taking a gander through the folders, anything jumping out at me? Looking at 0.ANCESTORS I first deal with the red-flag items if there are any. If I don’t get through those, my mind will never rest. I take long breaks. I’ve got the whole day.

As I’m drifting off to sleep that night I’m kissing the ANCESTORS good-bye for 12 days (and I grieve) and reminding myself that tomorrow’s Inbox is FINANCES. When I wake up in the morning, my subconscious has had all night to prepare me.

Focusing on one main area per day keeps my mind from fixating on one thing for too long when, practically-speaking, I shouldn’t be. It’s also giving me enough time to get some things done and enough time to enjoy doing them.

Whether this would suit you depends on your comfort level with multitasking. If I’m, in rapid-fire succession, balancing a bank statement and then surfing through 30 emails and then entering a death certificate into my genealogy database and then editing a video, to me that’s multitasking. Even though it’s not happening at exactly the same time it’s still too close.


Handling Distractions, TelephoneYesterday, for instance, I had 3 scheduled phone calls, one interruption phone call and one scheduled knock on the door, none of which had anything to do with the day’s Inbox.

The options for phone calls are:

  • It’s an answer I needed to hear. I’ve now heard it, thank-you.
  • It requires a time commitment. I put it on my calendar.
  • It’s information I need to file for reference. I put it under the appropriate tab in ActionOutline.
  • It’s information I still need to do something with. I put it under the appropriate Inbox in ActionOutline with or without a red flag.

Either way, it’s dispatched quickly and I return to the day’s focus.

This is a guide, not a prison sentence.

Maybe it’s a personal call from someone I haven’t talked to in eons and that becomes a priority. Maybe Brad Pitt calls and wants me to co-star in his next movie. I get to decide.

If I Don’t Feel Like It

This is where a timer comes in handy. If I can make it through the first 30 minutes, I’ve got momentum on my side. Hopefully.

For example, I hadn’t looked lately (for a year or two) through the box where I toss mail from my bank. I think I should get at least 5 points out of 10 for tossing it in the same box every time. It could be worse.

I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was surprised to find paper to scan, paper to shred and contact information to add to my address book. It was incredibly tedious, I never really got any momentum behind me and it took 3 hours spread across the entire day. Some days it’s just better to not get up.

Folder Structure

Besides my C-drive and ActionOutline, the 12 folder division that I use also exists in:

  • address books
  • bookmarks
  • calendar
  • Local Folders email (not JGEN)
  • Google Reader subscriptions
  • KeePass (logins & serial numbers)
  • README’s

These are also areas that I can look at to see if anything needs updating or triggers ideas for anything I need to add to today’s Inbox.

Consider the benefit. One Inbox per day means I’m looking at 8.3% of my computer content per day instead of 100% of it every day.


When I check my email, I immediately answer anything critical. Everything else is dragged and dropped into the appropriate sub-folder to be looked at the next time that focus area comes around on the wheel. Again, I’m only dealing with a fragment of the total per day. Some categories don’t get mail!

Handling Distraction, Email

Twelve days’ collection of email is frightful to consider. On the other hand, I can delete a batch of it just as easily a week from now as I can today. I just don’t want to take the time to look at it today if it’s not today’s area of focus.

Surfing the Web

I start and end my day with reading; Google Reader, G+, email, etc. In the middle of my day, if I come across an article I want to study, rather than scan quickly, I bookmark it under the appropriate folder rather than allow it to entice me from page to page to page all day. What makes it suddenly more important than the hundreds of other things already on my list? It probably isn’t and it can wait. The next time I get around to that area of focus it will be part of my reading list for the day.

My focus is always on what I’m choosing to do today, not the endless lists for later. The cream will inevitably rise to the top.

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