I dove deeply into minimalism this past month and I’ve learned a couple methods that have helped me gradually curb my addiction to distraction.
As I have been sorting through my digital assets (saved files, photos, videos, bookmarks, notes, etc.), and cleaned out a large number of saved bookmarks on Chrome, I developed a new system for myself that has helped me to stay organized, reduce time spent on distractions, and make it easy to progress intentionally (rather than mindlessly) through podcasts, inspirational videos, entertainment, lectures, and more.
The issue has been mindlessly watching or listening to content without actually implementing what I’m listening to. But the larger issue was sitting down for anywhere between 5 minutes to 2 hours or more “paying attention to content” in front of me on the screen and feeling like I HAD to watch it all the way through. Once I got started on a video, I was in NO way motivated to close that video if I had something else to do, something I WANTED to do, or was actually urgent to get done.
My guess is that I felt somewhat anxious about having to close an hour-long video and re-open it later and need to scrub through all the content trying to find my place.
The first step in taking control of my addiction to distraction is to batch it. Although I hadn’t thought of it at the time, this idea draws inspiration from Tim Ferriss’ method of batching tasks. For example, he wouldn’t check email periodically throughout the day but would instead have specific times he would view email and spend X number of minutes processing emails until the time was up.
The importance of this is to (a) not be a wild monkey bouncing from thing to thing and getting nothing done, and (b) reducing the amount of time spent on “changing gears” (I read somewhere that it takes the brain upwards of twenty minutes to switch mental gears to the new task – i.e., multitasking is less efficient in the long run).
That is ultimately what I decided to do as I was going through all 1,000+ of my Chrome Bookmarks one day (and I still need to go through them again). I started creating drop-down folders for all my bookmarks, organized by project, process, or priority.
Projects, such as research on Burning Man, getting my own place, Minimalism, etc.
Processes, such as a list of all my email accounts so that it takes 2 clicks to open all of them, links to my CENTRAL system, etc.
And priorities, such as my Tier system, e.g., Tier 1’s are things I need to get done right now, or are an active focus. Tier 2’s are less important, but should still be a focus within the next week-ish. Almost everything I do is a Tiered System now, from digital assets, minimalism, etc. (I’m not as effective at this yet as I’d like, but I’m making more headway with this format than any other thus far.)
So. Folders. This means that one of my folders on Chrome is simply labeled “Consume.” Meaning that the only things in this folder is content I want to watch, listen to, or read. In my head I know whether or not I was likely going to use that piece of content as a form of distraction (even if the content is useful/meaningful). Once I catch myself: I add it to the Consume folder and close it.
Lately, these pieces of content are related to: Jordan Peterson, Burning Man, Art of Manliness, Joe Rogan, and Matt D’Avela, as well as a few semi-permanent sub-folders designated for morning “state” content, mood music, etc.
By filtering all of the content I want to consume through that folder first, it unclogs my active tabs (read: attention/focus) away from those and back to whatever tasks I want to be working on instead.
The intent is not to block myself from watching “distracting,” useful, or motivating content. The intent is to have better control and self-discipline over my behavior with consume them.
Now, with all the content I want to consume sectioned into that one specific folder (which I can then access on any of my 3 devices), and not scattered around different tabs, folders, bars, or OneTab, it’s easier to locate and don’t stress about having to “dig around to find it.”
This format also makes it easier to pick and choose what content is worth keeping and what isn’t (most of it’s not). When I do find that particular piece of content that touches the soul or has so much useful information that I know I want to revisit it, THEN I will allow myself to save it in another designated folder (typically either labeled Mindset, or a specific speaker/creator, or in a project-oriented folder).
What makes this format so great for me is that in addition to being able to have all of my content in one place, combined with trying to be more intentional about how I’m spending my time, it makes it WAY less likely that I’ll open Youtube, Facebook, Netflix or Pinterest and scroll mindlessly because I know I already have a curated list of content I want to watch. I don’t open those to “look for something to distract myself” nearly as much. By not going to the “searchable” platforms like those above (and instead directly to THE piece of content itself), it keeps me further separated from scrolling habits. I’m going directly to what I already know I want to watch, from that list and not going to those platforms and subconsciously asking, “how can I pacify myself right now?”
I still allow myself to “watch/listen to content,” but I am finding that I’m more often saving it for when I’m decluttering/minimizing or eating lunch/dinner.
Then, to ensure that I’m not just using the content for instant gratification purposes, anytime I hear a snippet that is actionable/relatable for my situation, I’ll make a note in Google Keep and then go back to whatever else I was doing (e.g., decluttering). But I am not trying to take notes on 95% of the speech/talk/interview anymore, but rather taking the best 5% of the content that I can use for my personal situation.
As soon as I’m done watching it: I remove the bookmark. Done. Gone. No aftermath, no clutter.
In other words: I’m starting to organize the chaos (my distractions) into one controlled area that I can pick-and-choose from when I’m in a better mindset/situation. This allows me to consume content more effectively without deviating from other priorities.
The last part of my predicament with addiction to distraction is that when I’d start watching/listening to long-form content (e.g., 10 minutes or longer, often podcasts, lectures, and interviews), I’d be invested to the point that I would not want to turn it off unless I was about to be late for something.
This meant that I would often forgo other personal priorities (especially if it was only a commitment to myself, not someone else; i.e., easily blow-off-able), such as going to bed at a reasonable time, making a blog post, editing a video, making progress on a project, etc.
The solution is, as mentioned at the start, simple. Use a bookmark.
I don’t mean to just “save it as a bookmark,” as I’ve already done that. The bookmark mentality, I mean, is to strategically “save” the content in a way that is similar to a physical book’s bookmark.
Save my spot. I just edit my bookmark title to include the general timestamp (e.g., 52:00 or 52m) so that I know where to pick up where I left off last time.
It’s nothing fancy, but it’s been tremendously helpful in freeing up my brain to step away. I don’t feel compelled to “stick it through for the rest of the hour.” Just like a book, I can put it back on the bookshelf (folder) and resume it later, and can go through other books (videos) as I please, allowing me to only watch content as it’s relevant/motivating, and stop when it’s not.
Since this syncs to all my other devices, I can start listening to an interview at home, and resume it through my car’s audio as I’m driving to and from the studio (which is a great time to get through shorter long-form content that is 20-40 minutes or less).
Through both of these methods, I’m finding myself spending less time scrolling, less time consuming content back-to-back, and more time listening to content when I’m doing something productive that doesn’t require writing/speaking/reading/deep-thought (such as decluttering, organizing, sorting through physical folders, doing receipts, etc.). And in general, I’m not as attached to my computer, because I’ve calmed that anxious part of my brain that “that content will be there when I’m ready for it.” It’s not going into the void of my digital assets, and instead going right into that curated little Consume/content folder.