Tom Jepson Creative

A Healthier Life with Fewer Distractions

This short assignment can be filed under 'Working Without Stress' and was inspired by a brief exchange with members of the Ness Labs community.

When working for yourself you need motivation. Motivation to be fully autonomous; to show up and do what you need every day; to knuckle down and get shit done. In our hyper-connected world the life of a remote-working company-of-one is piled with challenges outside of those found in actually doing great work for clients.

'The Feed' is Mental Junk Food

With almost unlimited access to the web there is always a message board or content timeline to check on, some article bank or infinity pool to dive into. Maybe we ‘must’ ensure our knowledge is up to date and know exactly what is happening on the other side of the globe. It is easy to find this mental junk food and even easier to consume it.

Instead, we must make ourselves a decent meal; reserve our consumption to the things which will actually help us grow and switch off the junk distractions.

It's all about getting down to the thing we should be doing.

Stress Eating

These distractions and poor-quality mental stimulants create stress; whether we know it or not it puts our mental faculties into overdrive. Some folks say they can multitask effectively and that they do their best work when they're under pressure. This is crazy talk.

Distractions and context-switching (the act of jumping between tasks and snapping into different mental states) do not allow our mind the time and space it needs to quieten down, to focus, and to create work of meaning. It is stretching what we are capable of to breaking point.

To be explicit, by checking your Twitter feed or quickly skimming through Instagram when your focus goes off the boil you are killing any opportunity you have to engage properly with the task in hand and do work that is any good.

You’ll tire more quickly and never build up the mental muscles you need to focus.

You'll feel worse later on because you haven't completed your work and have tasks hanging over you. Cue always-on working and burnout ...

It has taken me a long time to get to this point. It has not been an easy road. Having a slightly sadomasochistic relationship with social media (a story for another time) I had to train myself to find the right balance between 'connected' and 'freedom'. Since I quickly fall victim to temptation I use tools to help me stay the course.

Healthier Habits

When working I use 'Freedom' to block sites and apps which drag me down. Between 10am and 4pm every working day I do not have access to any of the infinity pools which can poison the well of creative thought. By removing access it has gradually killed the habit of mental junk-food snacking.

I don't have any social apps on my mobile devices. None. If I want to access Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, I've made it hard to do so; I have to go in through a web browser on my iPhone - a sub-optimal experience in its own right! - and sign in every time.

Creating friction here has pushed me into finding a smoother path and build a healthier habit (see: not bothering to check in on socials and consume content all the time).

Small Changes for the Biggest Impact

The affect these new habits have had on my ability to get work done (any work let alone good work!) and create a more balanced, focussed life has been profound. Switching off from the distractions and killing context-switching has given me mental freedom and some much-needed quiet time. Sometimes, even, deliberate boredom.

I can get more meaningful work done in an undistracted 3-4 hour period of a morning than I ever could working 8 hours a day glued to a screen with access to the world at my fingertips.

I'm less tired; I'm mentally fitter; I am, dare I say it, a better person to be around. What's more, I've got more time to do the things I want to do because I'm spending less time doing the things I need to do.

Isn't it time we all dropped the distractions, consumed less 'mental junk' and learned our own healthy habits? Find the ways to reduce your own distractions. You'll feel better, work better, and be able to take on any challenge that crosses your path.