Why Your Greatest Asset May Be Slowly Eroding (and How You Can Rebuild It)

Why Your Greatest Asset May Be Slowly Eroding (and How You Can Rebuild It)

Reader Comments (38)

  1. Thanks for the insights, Jerod. Staying focused is, indeed a battle. It’s one that I fight every day.

    I can’t say that I’ve gone to the extremes that you have, but I’ve taken measures to limit distractions. No notifications from any of my apps, RescueTime to monitor my activities, StayFocusd on Chrome to limit my access to time wasting sites, and finally, the powerful Pomodoro timer to keep me focused on the task at hand.

    Yet… I still get distracted sometimes. It may be time for me to take some of your drastic measures. I know that I have so much time to be creating something or connecting with people that is simply being wasted. We all need to reclaim some of that.

    • Those are some great additional tips Joshua. One additional thing I started just this morning actually, as an experiment, was making a playlist of music to play during work sessions — hoping that the music will help drown out distractions. And I’ll use the same playlist over and over so I don’t get caught up in the songs. It will be more of a mental trigger that it’s time to work. I was listening to a podcast recently where the guest discussed doing this, and how much it helped him get more work done.

  2. What a great post Jerod, thanks. This war is important, and as you told, probably one of the most important. A great entrepreneur once told me that the most important thing for him as a business man was courage, and focus. We restrict social media from our network at the office and it’s been great!

  3. Yes, yes, yes! I was just having a conversation with a friend last night about this “need” to be on certain social media platforms even though we don’t want to be. She’s been wanting to leave Twitter but feels compelled to be on there even though it doesn’t really have any ROI for her business. Her plan for this week? To remove links to Twitter from her website and stop scheduling new tweets.

    It got me thinking too. I’ve built my personal brand and business over the last 10 years via social media but I’ve wished so many times over the years that I could leave Facebook. I’ve felt tied to it. Working in the digital marketing industry, I feel trapped to stay. And yet, when I look at my Google Analytics, less than 1% of all of my traffic in the past year came from Facebook. It makes me feel awful when I’m on there, and while I removed the app from my phone a few weeks ago, I still have to check it to maintain my business page and Facebook group. I’m starting to think it’s not worth it.

    My friend referred me to writer Alexandra Franzen who is not on any social media anymore. I know that Copyblogger also famously left Facebook years ago. Knowing that there are others out there who made the choice in their business is freeing. I’m thinking I just might make the leap…

    • Thanks for the comment Mallory. You’ve highlighted a really important point here: what works for someone else, what may in fact be necessary for someone else, may not be necessary for you. In fact, it might even detrimental. And let’s also remember that no decision is permanent. If you make a decision, and it doesn’t work out like you think it will, or things change, you can always go back — this time with a clearer understanding of the value you’re getting for the time you’re putting in.

  4. This is sooooo on point!

    I’ve been working the past few months to limit the distractions, so I’ve spent A LOT less time on social. I’ve found that after a few days, much like with sugar, the desire for it starts to wane significantly.

    Also – I too noticed that for a while I was also always occupying my mind – so I’ve been enjoying walking, cooking, and driving in silence to allow my mind to rest and be and roam.

    It is a much for sane place to be and I plan to stay here a while. ?

    • YES. Something that’s helped — and I have my wonderful new daughter to thank for this — is that Heather and I rarely turn the TV on anymore at home, since we’re trying to limit her exposure to screens. It’s really helped to reduce the background noise at the house. The quiet was a little jarring at first, but I’ve come to really appreciate it.

  5. Incredibly useful article, Jerod – thank you!

    One of the most helpful tools I’ve found recently is the “Kill News Feed” extension for Chrome…..it turns off my Facebook news feed completely, so I can’t get mindlessly sucked into political discussions and cat videos when I should be focusing on other things.

    I still spend time on Facebook, but I have to work harder to get to it – and that helps a little.

    • That’s another great tip Beth, thank you! Anything like that, that throws up a roadblock between you and a potential distraction, is helpful (I am finding). Our mind so often seems to be searching for an easy, quick escape … not providing it helps retrain us to stop expecting it, and to get more comfortable in longer periods of focus and thought.

  6. Powerful article Jerod, you couldn’t be more right – distractions are around us each day. I removed social media on my phone and I’ve been so much more productive. Now I just need to limit my YouTube video watching… the battle continues.

  7. Jerod,
    This was a great post. I’ve spoken before about my ADHD and how hard it is to stay on task. When I turned off social media notifications on my phone it freed me up immensely from “FOMO”. I, personally, haven’t removed these apps from the phone though. Sometimes, I do just want to kick back and see all the baby pictures and what-not that a mid-thirties dude is likely to see from his friends. But, having the beeps go off kept me from going to the phone for needless reasons. The smartphone’s notifications system is one that should be managed with a keen eye. I need to get better about this on the Mac. I’ve resorted to turning off all notifications entirely when I need to get something done. That and a good deadline will do it. Though I do listen to spoken word stuff in the shower sometimes, I look forward to the shower as a time to jam the tunes. That helps get my wheels turning too. With my ADHD, the best way to clear my head is to go for a walk and jam tunes. I think the secret to managing it is that you always have to be doing two things at once (an idle thing and an active thing). When I have been intentional about supplying the idle thing, like walking, the active thinking is able to really get cranking. The endorphins help, too. Too bad it took me until my late twenties to figure that out and finally start to get my sh*t together.

    • Better your late 20s than your mid-30s. 😉 Great point on the deadline. I’ve always had a remarkable ability to focus when up against the deadline, though not always a self-imposed deadline. That’s one area I’m looking to explore next in terms of my personal productivity: how do I get into Deadline Focus mode when there isn’t a real externally-driven deadline forcing it? I can do it sometimes, but not consistently enough for my liking.

  8. Great post. I too find myself distracted on too regular a basis. Making tea, Twitter, news blar blar blar.

    What slightly troubles me is that we’re all in the business of creating things that have ‘value’ but that can also be to others the very distraction we are battling. Something to ponder in the shower.

    For what it’s worth, my secret weapon is the ‘focus’ channel on brain.fm. It has special powers to clear a polluted mind!

    • It is a bit paradoxical, isn’t it? I think we can use this apparent contradiction to drive us to create ever more valuable content. We all know the high costs of attention switching, so we darn well better make sure that when people switch their attention to us that they get something valuable out of it.

  9. Whoa, serendipity.

    This exact topic has been on my mind for awhile. (Maybe, actually, since I listened to your podcast interview with Laura Roeder? When she mentioned she’d removed social media apps, email, etc. from her phone.)

    The modern world is ripe with distractions, from browser notifications to phone vibrations. I think a lot of us are beginning to realize the toll that’s taking.

    Anyway, thanks for this. It’s encouraging to read that you’ve made changes and are seeing positive results already.

    Carry on.

    • Thanks Logan. Goodness, I should have mentioned that discussion with Laura! Her saying that is what planted the bug in my mind that eventually led to me doing it.

  10. Hi Jerod,

    Distractions are everywhere and they are a problem for me… I’ll be researching one thing, Facebook pops and tells me about an interaction, checking analytics and traffic patterns when I should be writing… etc.

    I actually put myself on a daily schedule. There is a time block for reading and engaging off my site… creating my own content… forecasting new content… and social media engagement.

    Thanks to your post, I’m going to add a time for my daily walks during the workday to clear my mind and collect me thoughts. That’s so important!

    It’s a challenge to get hyper-focused but I know from my days in the military that the rewards are huge.

    Thanks for the reminders.

    Happy New Year Jerod!

    ~ Don

    • Thanks for the comment Don. It really does have to be a daily intention, unless you are just naturally good at staying distraction-free — which many of us clearly are not!

      Are there any lessons from your military background that you think are especially pertinent here, beyond the daily schedule that you mentioned?

  11. I actually took the time to read the entire piece! While there are useful tips (podcasts in the shower?) I find that it is more difficult to avoid distractions in my desktop. Thousands of emails beg to be deleted and it’s too easy to look at videos when you realize you’ve given up an hour. For me, I divide my day into segments based on commitments on my calendar. I assign a time limit to each task, take a break in between and move on. At the end of the day I feel accomplished and know I’ve moved ahead . Thanks for your ideas!

    • Thanks Mary Lou — admittedly, the whole no-podcasts-in-the-shower one is very specific to my own daily rituals, with the bigger point there being just finding some time of silence in the day to reflect, think, etc. Love your tip on avoiding distractions while working. For the last couple of weeks, since I wrote the initial draft of this post, I’ve been doing something similar — scheduling out 30-40 minute chunks of time for individual tasks, and hyper-focusing on those, then a break, then back to it. It’s helped a lot.

  12. Excellent post! Now that the pressure is on for my current project I find exactly the same distractions you’ve pointed out – well maybe not the podcast in the shower – but the rest – absolutely.

    And, like you, I’ve been thinking it was more about forgetting than focus – which is odd since I’ve been meditating since university – but that is a whole other person ago. Today I’m going to clean out my phone apps. Hmm. I think that is still avoidance. Ok, I’ll stick to Don Purhum’s routine until tonight, then I’ll clean.

    Thanks for posting this. It really resonated with me.

  13. The book “The Shallows, What the Internet is doing to our Brain” by Nicholas Carr talks about our adaption to the technology we create. Much of what you say is also said by Nick, with research observations added. His book is an easy read, and has a number of good observations. Essentially, we are turning over many of our functions to technology and losing the ability to do them. A simple example is the number of phone numbers you can cite. We used to know a dozen by memory. Now we are lucky to know our own.
    One insightful quote is: “The smarter the technology, the dumber the user.”
    Examples, spell check, grammar check, GPS, contacts list, and more.
    Thank you for the article. We are creatures of habit and need to fight the inclination to take the easy path of turning over functions to technology, losing ourselves in the process. We are victims of the path of least resistance, always have been and always will be.
    Have fun,’

    • Ed, I’ve heard about that book on a number of podcasts. Thanks for reminding me of it. The phone number thing is a little scary. I know mine and my wife’s … that’s it. And I’ve become pretty poor with names. Trying to get back to basics and remember important numbers (working on my daughter’s SSN number right now) and practice getting better at names. I figure it has practical application, and it’s good exercise for the brain to keep it sharp. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  14. Hallelujah! You just articulated that nagging fear in the back of my mind that my memory was a shot duck. I’m not getting old, I’m just horribly distracted. Thank you for making me feel normal, if somewhat violated by that “small number of people in Northen California”! My solution is to take my two dogs out for a walk twice a day. No phone, no distractions, no conversations. I’ve done some of my best writing, walking.
    Cheers, Mel

    • Mel, great to hear! And I appreciate your comment, and the comments of others here, for helping me feel better too. It’s comforting to know that we’re all in this together, and we can help each other, with support, sharing strategies, etc., to fight the dastardly distractions that are incessantly coming for us all.

  15. Jerod, you’ve made me feel so much better with this post! That feeling of trying to remember how to do a task in Photoshop that I’ve done a hundred times before and I just can’t find it in my head. Scary! I thought my memory lapses were age-related. But distraction…I can do something about that. I’m glad to see so many other commenters here have turned off notifications. I just did that too and it’s a great relief!

    You’re right about scheduling off-screen time. I belong to two creative clubs locally where we meet for real in the same room, one to share music and the other art. There’s a big difference between the little snippets you exchange online and spending time with friends face to face.

    I’m going to share this post with my college-age daughters. I’m concerned for their attention and focus having grown up on screens.

    • That’s so great to hear Sue! My hypothesis was that others were dealing with the same struggles I have been. It seems that’s the case. And I guess it’s weird to be glad that other people are struggling, but it does make it easier to embrace self-compassion and move forward confidently with some specific action items to reverse the issue. Onward we go!

  16. Totally agree Jerod. Great article!

    I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a morning walk along the beach with NO phone, which means no music, podcasts, anything. And I focus on the water, the trees, my breathing.

    I find it gets me off to a really calm, distraction-free start to my day 🙂

  17. Hi Jerod

    Found this article extremely interesting to read this morning, whilst fumbling around for snippets to read. What have I done in the 45 mins of being awake…. Facebook check, Instagram check, and now LinkedIn check where I found this article. It’s been bothering me for awhile that I’ve become as bad as my kids constantly checking my phone. This year I really want to get to grips with detaching myself from this bad habit that most of the time leaves me with insecurities that everyone is having amazing lives and mines just plain ordinary! That we must be on social media for our businesses to work or we are missing out big time.

    Yesterday I did something really quite uplifting a photography day , no phones just concentrating on one this fully for the day no distractions…… I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. Did the world end because I never checked in on fb? I slept better that night than I have in months!!

    Interestingly my 20 year old son deleted fb before Christmas he’s not been back!! He’d come to the conclusion too much time wasting too. I’ve been posting quite regularly on my business page on Friday I put up “does anyone read my posts” to which 3 people replied. I could see it had so called reached 90. I really am beginning to wonder what is the point.

    But phones and apps do coming in handy. My kids showed me how to use Uber last week. Wow impressive. They also ordered food to be delivered with a blink of an eye. I did feel like a dinosaur seeing how efficient this was.

    So I guess it’s finding a happy medium. Thanks for sharing this article. I’d love to writing blogs…….. but don’t I need people to read them on here?

    • Thanks for your insight Sandra! Your experience matches what I’m hearing from so many other people. I have also found my sleep improve a great deal. I wasn’t expecting that, but it’s been a welcome byproduct.

  18. Great Article Jerod!
    I love the attention you gave to your phone in order to get more back in the end. Removing social media and browsers is, for sure, a bold move. This resonated with me because I’m in the middle of a “digital pause” for the month of January. I didn’t remove them from my phone/iPad, but I did swear them off. For accountability, I posted a JPG on my three major attention-robbers (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) indicating that I was “on pause”, would see everyone in February, and that I’d check FB messages once weekly. It has been downright wonderful. It’s eerie though, how tough it was to take that step and commit to digital downtime; wondering if we’ll fall off the social bandwagon, never to get back on. Found your article during this, only my second “twitter-cheat” in two weeks. Again… Kudos. (now… back to pause.)

  19. What this article has me thinking about is WHY I’m so easily distracted.

    If what I’m writing isn’t enough to keep me off social media, it’s certainly not going to keep a reader off.

    So–what is it about what I’m writing that is making me wander off?

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