We all do it. Actually, we all struggle with it.
Our attention is so fluid, so fragile. It takes only the slightest bump to send it bouncing around like a flashlight on a string in a dark room. If you're like me, you battle constantly the urge to check twitter, your RSS feed or the front page of your favourite news site. It's easy to blame the Internet as a distraction. Certainly, having all the worlds knowledge and entertainment hiding behind the equivalent of a saran-wrap (yes, I had to look up the spelling of "saran"...and had to force myself to come back to writing this) wall doesn't help the battle.
It's more than just the ease of which we can choose to distract ourselves – make no mistake, it's a choice – that makes our attention so breakable. Sometimes, when we procrastinate easily it means that we don't truly care about the task at hand. I accept that caring is a critical part of getting something done, but I think there's more to it than that. There's lots in life that we don't care about, but that we still need to do. It comes down to mindfulness and discipline. Both those things are really hard, even when you do truly care.
I want to write more. I try to write more and usually fail. Lately, I feel like I've been failing at it even more than normal. For me, writing is hard. I wish it wasn't, but for whatever combination of reasons, it is. The only way I can change that is to force myself to do it more. If you identify with any of what I just said, go read this. I'll wait. Done? I know, right? (I hate people who say that, sorry).
A part of writing that I really struggle with is getting words on a page (screen, whatever) without constantly stopping and editing what I've already written. I need to get better at locking into modes. The first mode is just spewing out words. The second is re-writing (actually, usually deleting) what I just wrote until it seems to make sense. The third mode is a final edit to make sure there aren't any stupid mistakes.
There, I'm aware of that failing. I wrote it down. I'm mindful of it. When I'm writing in mode one and catch myself switching to mode two before I'm done, I gently force myself back to the blinking cursor at the bottom of the screen and keep hitting the keys. I need to accept that the time for mode two will come. If you haven't already figured it out, this post is just an excuse to force myself to keep writing more words. I'll have to make sure to leave the last sentence in when I'm editing in mode two (and I did!).
It's mindfulness of our own cognitive patterns and habits and the discipline to correct them that makes the difference between staying on the tightrope of attention or falling off into the abyss. If you care at all about this stuff, I urge you to go and listen to Back to Work with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin. Don't use it as a procrastination tool though, please! Start at episode one and listen to all of them. It's worth it, I promise.
Many of you are probably already listeners, but I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't mention it. Actually, if you are a B2W listener, most of this post is a total rip-off. I make no apologies though, because without a constant reminder it's easy to lose the habit of being focused and actually producing something.
We try really hard to find excuses when we procrastinate. There is always some external force that we blame, to absolve ourselves. With honesty, we realize that the only person or thing to blame is our own laziness.