eliminating distractions

Published on April 1, 2020

One thought that keeps coming back to me is “where did the time go?”

In quarantine, the days appear to blend into one. On both weekends and weekdays, I am in the same place (my home), I eat roughly the same foods, and I spend time with the same group of people. The only things that truly distinguish a weekend from a weekday, at least for me, is the name of the day, and the fact that I am not working.

I think we are all developing a new perception of time on account of the amount of time we are spending indoors. I used to love going out on walks around town -- even just going out to look at the stores was liberating to me -- but now I can no longer do that. I often feel guilty just going outside, even though I always operate in accordance with government guidelines with regard to social distancing.

Spending more time indoors has made me feel as though the days are going quicker. When I look back on my days, I can see that many of the moments I have had now exist as one memory: being inside during quarantine. It’s hard to make each day distinct because most of my days are spent working and doing indoor activities.

This has caused me to think more about how I am spending my time. What I have found so far is that, for some reason, there are a large number of moments for which I cannot account. I know I have spent so much more time at home than I used to, but I am struggling to figure out where a lot of the time has gone. Did it disappear? Of course not.

I think the reason so many moments are blending themselves together is that some of my free time has been consumed by distractions. When I think about it, I spend quite a lot of my evenings on my phone. But when I think about what I was doing on my phone last night, I can barely remember any distinct fact. In my mind, I register the time I spent as “being on my phone” and as nothing else.

Although I now have more time to work on the projects that matter to me -- the ones I didn’t work on because I was travelling, or just getting out in general -- I have found that distractions have started to fill that time.

What do I intend to do about this? The first step is to reflect on the magnitude and nature of the distractions to which I have lent my attention. Over the last few weeks, I have spent more time on my phone than I usually would, and I have read more of the news than ever before. These activities -- with the exception of government announcements -- have been largely a waste of time.

The news has made me depressed, and I reached the point of diminishing returns a long time ago. Social media is filled with people who are arguing back and forth about things that I don’t want to be thinking about. And yet I spend a lot of my time focused on these two things.

Consumption is an important part of our lives, but there is a certain point past which consuming information provides limited utility. Reading a few articles a day may help you become more knowledgeable, but the value of doing that is capped when you read past a certain number of articles. Your attention cannot hold after reading so much.

When I think about how I spend my time, I realize there are many distractions in my day. I pick up my phone before I have breakfast (although I usually do not look at it). I spend time reading listicles and other articles which tell me how to think (I actively seek these out when I am bored). I have a list of projects I want to work on which I know I cannot do, because there are only 24 hours in a day.

To help me combat the impact of distractions on my life, I need to double down on the activities which bring me the most value, and spend less time doing the things from which I derive no value. For me, this means making adequate time for work, writing, reading, self care, and family.

These are the things that matter most. All the other things -- social media, writing a newsletter, etc -- which provide me with little long-term value are not worth my attention, at least at the moment. I could definitely argue that social media has been beneficial for me, but again there is a point of diminishing returns, and I find that it is all too easy for me to reach it. You could say “James, social media is incredibly valuable” but that is your opinion. I know that I need to spend less of my time on Twitter.

The bottom line is that I need to keep thinking about how I spend my time, and actively remove distractions. I should focus more on the things which give me value -- work, writing, and so on -- and less on things which I do not want to be part of my life. I need to focus more, and indulge in distractions less. It may not be easy, but it’s the best way for me to be able to make time for more good memories to be made.

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