Winning The Attention Economy Starts With Winning Back Your Own Attention.

3 Strategies To Become More Effective In The Age Of Distraction

Winning The Attention Economy Starts With Winning Back Your Own Attention.
Photo by Ross Findon / Unsplash

Strategy One: Take Back Your Time

Keep A Simple Time Log

Don't overthink it. Don't use a dedicated time tracking app. More than likely that will add to the clutter. The majority of time tracking apps now log everything automatically, which, although sounds good in theory, in reality merely postpones intentionality and reflection until it’s too late to course correct. Don’t fall into the trap of trading one distraction for another.

Here’s a sample log for inspiration

  • 6:53 - 7:24 - Responding to Emails (31 mins)
  • 7:25 - 8:03 - Working On Sales Page (38 mins)
  • 8:03 - 8:18 - Breakfast and Empty Dishwasher (15 mins)
  • 8:18 - 8:20 - Drinking coffee
  • 8:20- 8:37 - Working on Sales Page(17 mins)
  • 8:38 - 8:52 -Bathroom and Walk prep (14 mins)
  • 8:53 -9:40 - Walk
  • 9:40-10:20 - Recording Farewell Message (40 mins)
  • 10:20-10:30 - Chat With Friends (10 mins)
  • 10:30- 11:15 - Work on Sales Page (45 mins)
  • 11:15-12:42 - Lunch + Netflix (1hr 27 mins)
  • 12:42 - 1:25 - Disassociated Distraction (43 mins)
  • 1:25-5:00 PM - Forgot to track properly (4hr 35 mins)
  • 5:00-6:44 PM - Setup Ghost Blog (1.5 hours)
  • 6:44-7:00 PM - Bathroom (16 minutes)
  • 7:00-11:30PM - Setup Ghost Blog (4.5 hours)

This is the exact log I used on my first day. It's not perfect. But it worked. I was able to see where my time went, and the simple act of coming back to the log each time in order to log my hours reminded me why I was doing it and resulted in more mindfulness. The dark zone in the middle is a great place to being reclaiming my time.

Consider Using A Site Blocker

Once I started tracking my time, the results were unsettling and confirmed suspicions I'd had for years. Large chunks of my day disappear to unwanted activities.

Using Freedom, a tool designed to help us manage digital clutter by blocking access to sites and apps we find distracting, I developed an awareness of how bad my digital problems had gotten. Freedom interrupts the regular distraction loops by loading up a green screen with the words: "You're Free" each time you try and access a site on your blocklist. All of the sudden I noticed how often I was reflexively opening a new tab in my browser trying to open Twitter or YouTube. This has happening 6-10 times an hour. Each time my brain encountered difficulty, wham, my hands reflexively opened a tab to get a shot of dopamine via YouTube or some other buffet of distraction. It's crazy to think about how many hours of my life I've lost to binge sessions that have started this way.

Photo by mohammad alizade / Unsplash

Strategy Two: Be Intentional

First Things First

In his seminal classic, The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker explains why, as knowledge workers, our role is essentially to fuel our catalyze the actions and ideas of others. He defines effectiveness as a discipline, not a subject. A daily approach to getting things done and winning the war of attention via intentionality and ruthless prioritization.

Efficiency is doing things right.
Effectiveness is doing the right things.

-Pete Drucker

In other words effectiveness isn't merely getting things done. It's getting the right things done in the right way. This approach seems subtle, or obvious, yet so many of us (I daresay most of us) don't organize our lives this way at all. We get caught up in Doing™, the act of going through the motions to feel Busy™, instead of accomplishing tasks that get us closer to our goals.

Cultivate An Intentional Mindset

Intentionality is the rocket that will help us overcome the gravitational pull of distraction. The prior strategy, time tracking, is certainly one ingredient but this strategy is about implementing changes and habits across the board. This is about developing mindfulness/intention routines. Our goal is simple: cultivate opportunities for intentionality. Simple. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Aggregate your time into large undisturbed chunks to allow for what Cal Newport calls Deep Work. Tiny chunks of time might prevent us from really settling into a task. Focus on one task at a time.
  2. Build in easy intentional wins to reward yourself. The easiest win is to wake up early and make your bed. Ex-military self-improvement titans like David Goggins and Jocko Wilink swear by this strategy.
  3. Reflect often. Pass actions through the filter of Why? to see if they belong in your life or not.
  4. Schedule chunks of time for leisure. The first step towards high quality leisure is being intentional about it. Cal Newport discovered that, paradoxically, if we give ourselves periods with nothing to do we become bored, disassociated and anxious.
  5. Discover and eliminate sources of waste in your life. This could be food, time, patterns, or behaviors. Anything and everything that holds you back from your goals.

Strategy Three: Be Ruthless

Once you've taken stock in the previous two strategies, the focus shifts to executing and holding yourself accountable. Become unavailable. Become someone who is radically in control of their own time. Too often in life we encounter non-negotiables, like one of our children getting sick, so eliminating or minimizing negotiables is key.

  • If something doesn't need to be done, don't do it.
  • If something doesn't get you closer to your goals, don't do it.
  • If you're in doubt, don't do it.

You don't need to apologize. You don't need to allow yourself to remain stuck in FOG activities (ie. activities rooted in fear, obligation and guilt). Be unapologetic about maintaining boundaries and getting rid of digital clutter and time waste.

  1. Get rid of all apps on your phone that represent a time sync.
  2. Use tools like Freedom to ban distraction during the day, and take advantage of the features that lock you out and prevent you from ending sessions early.
  3. Check emails during specific periods of the day.
  4. Don't use social media apps without a specific purpose. According to Newport, this is when the distraction creeps in.
  5. Zero your exposure to gaming apps or apps designed to take advantage of your biology in order to make someone else money.


Don't Beat Yourself Up

The war for attention wages. You're up against hundreds of engineers and social hackers who have spent years perfecting methods to keep you hooked on their products and services. Soon we might live in a world where social media is treated in a similar way to driving. Perhaps it requires licensing, testing, and rules in order to be used safely. The alternative, our current situation, is a slow drift towards mindless consumption, disassociation and non-attention. Take your life back.

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