We live in a world that is trying to distract us to the maximum degree and minimize our focus and attention spans. In particular, we are largely distracted by modern technology: smartphones, tablets, television, computers, the Internet, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, videogames, etc.
Before modern technology was invented (e.g. 19th century America), life was simpler and more linear. You woke up and ate breakfast. You went to work (e.g. the farm, factory, or office), where you basically focused only on work. At work, you were not interrupted or distracted by a barrage of emails, text messages, Facebook updates, tweets, etc. Once you finished working, you went home, engaged in your hobbies, ate dinner, relaxed, and then went to bed. Once you left work, it was easier to forget about work since smartphones, emails, and text messages did not exist.
For better or for worse, modern technology has largely eliminated this simpler way of life. In many respects, life is easier and more convenient. For example, you can easily order virtually anything off the Internet, and you can easily learn about anything on the Internet, although not all sources of information are equally good. However, in terms of noise and distractions, life is more difficult and complicated. Historically, humans have never been as distracted as they are now.
For example, when riding public transportation, I often see virtually everyone around me using his or her smartphone. Several years ago, this happened occasionally but now it happens regularly. It is the new norm: I am surrounded by smartphone addicts. Few people want to just sit and stay present. Most people seek constant stimulation or gratification through their phone. (Yes, sometimes I use my phone while riding public transportation. Usually, I record notes or set reminders. There is a big difference between using your phone for practical purposes and using it for mere stimulation or gratification.)
Furthermore, I often see people driving on the streets or expressway while looking down at their smartphones, which is a great way to get into an accident and possibly injure or kill yourself and/or others. For that matter, I sometimes see people walking down the street while looking down at their smartphones. This is a great way to run into something, trip over something, or get hit by a vehicle. It would be highly absurd but tragic if a driver who was looking down at his phone hit a pedestrian who was also looking down at his phone. And this could actually happen in today’s society.
Overall, we are collectively suffering from many forms of technological addiction: Internet addiction, social media addiction, smartphone addiction, television addiction, etc. In terms of our brain chemistry, these forms of addiction are fundamentally the same as tobacco addiction, alcohol addiction, illicit drug addiction, and porn addiction.
Since we are addicted and distracted in so many ways, we are losing sight of what is most important in life: work, love, and Zen. We are losing sight of the present moment.
At NO-MIND FITNESS, I care about your mental health, your mental states, your mindfulness, and your degree of presence. I have designed this website in a simple, clean, minimal manner. I am trying to maximize your focus and presence, not distract or bombard you with all sorts of junk.
Having ranted sufficiently, I will now list 12 constructive actions that you can take in order to maximize your focus and minimize distractions.
1. Meditate once, twice, or thrice daily for 10-20 minutes.
Meditating is the most important action you can take to maximize your focus, presence, and awareness. You must become aware of your level of addiction and distraction before you can directly address these issues. Please see these posts: "Zazen Instructions" and "Why You Should Take Zen Very Seriously".
2. When doing X, just do X. Do not multi-task.
This principle is very simple but very practical and powerful. When writing an essay or article, just write. When reading a book or article, just read. When researching a given topic, just research it. When ordering something online, just order it. When texting, just text. When talking on the phone, just talk on the phone. When working, just work. When sleeping, just sleep.
3. Eliminate noise and distractions.
Your work area should be quiet and have zero distractions. So turn off any nearby TVs. If you’re doing work that requires focused concentration, do not listen to any music, even classical music. If necessary, wear earplugs. Silence your smartphone or at least avoid using it.
If you’re working in an area with other people and they repeatedly interrupt you for trivial reasons, then directly tell them, “I’m trying to focus on this project. Please do not interrupt or distract me. Thank you.”
If you do not enforce your boundaries, people will keep interrupting and distracting you.
4. Cultivate the habit of reading.
Reading is largely an exercise in focus and linear thought. If the author writes well, he or she will write in a linear fashion, which will make it easy for the reader to trace and understand that line of thought or reasoning.
To cultivate the habit of reading, I recommend reading at least one book (any genre) per month. In particular, read books that are 200+ pages long, on subjects that genuinely interest you. For bonus points, read a book that is 500+ pages long or that is on a very difficult subject matter (e.g. Kant’s theory of knowledge or ethics). You can find rigorous books in any subject: philosophy, history, literature, religion, economics, finance, business, etc. For any subject X, just Google “the most difficult [or rigorous] books in X.”
If you do not read regularly, do not feel bad or guilty. It is never too late to cultivate the habit of reading. Start with a book that really interests you and is fairly short (200 or fewer pages). Once you finish that book, find another fairly short book. You can develop the habit of reading one book at a time, one chapter at a time, one page at a time.
When reading, just read. Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV and PC. See (3).
5. Whenever you use technology, use it for a specific, relevant, practical purpose.
Do not use technology aimlessly or just for the sake of using it. Use technology only to the extent that it is necessary and practical: writing an essay or article, researching a given topic, checking your e-mail, updating your website or blog, ordering something online, or checking your financial accounts.
In particular, do not surf the Internet aimlessly. We are all guilty of doing this sometimes, but you should look at websites only for specific, relevant, practical purposes. If you’re surfing the Internet just to pass the time, then you’re wasting your time.
6. Clean up and organize your desktop.
You should not have too many folders or files on your desktop. If 25% or more of your desktop has clutter, then you should immediately clean and organize it. Less is more. This is the secret to Zen aesthetics: minimalism, absolute simplicity, cleanliness, and empty space. You can further apply these aesthetic concepts to your office and residence.
7. Leave open only the computer programs that you’re actively using.
If you’re not actively using a computer program, close it. You should not have 10 programs open simultaneously. Less is more. The more programs you have open, the less focused and the more distracted and scatterbrained you will be. The fewer programs you have open, the more focused and the less distracted and scatterbrained you will be.
8. Unless it’s truly necessary, do not check your e-mail first thing in the morning.
In general, when you start your morning, you should work on the most important task of the day. In the early morning (especially if you meditate), your mind is fresh, focused, and ready to tackle the day.
If you check your e-mail first thing in the morning, you may spend the first 15-60 minutes of your morning answering e-mails, dealing with minutiae, checking the websites to which your emails link, and getting distracted overall. In this case, you are wasting your fresh, focused mental energy.
Thus, I recommend waiting until 10am or later to check your email. Before then, work on the most important task of the day.
9. Do not watch random videos on YouTube.
One can easily waste a lot of time by watching random videos on YouTube. Nevertheless, YouTube does have some fascinating videos or documentaries. Thus, I recommend watching videos only for a specific, relevant, practical purpose.
If you find yourself wasting too much time on YouTube, you can easily block it using the extensions or add-ons listed below in (10). If you ever need to watch certain videos on YouTube, you can temporarily un-block it and then block it again later.
10. Block websites that distract you.
If you’re wasting too much time on certain websites (e.g. Facebook or YouTube) and it’s undermining your productivity, you should block them using a website blocking extension or add-on. I recommend Simple Blocker for Google Chrome and Block Site for Mozilla Firefox.
Do not unblock these websites unless you have very good reason to do so.
11. If necessary, disconnect from the Internet.
If you want to eliminate all Internet distractions for a certain time period, you can physically remove the Ethernet cable from your PC or laptop. If you’re using WiFi on a laptop and it has a WiFi switch, you can use it to disable your wireless connection.
Alternatively, you can disable your Ethernet connection in Windows 7 by doing the following:
1. Right-click on ‘My Computer’
2. Select ‘Properties’
3. Click ‘Device Manager’
4. Click the triangle next to ‘Network Adapters’
5. Right-click on the relevant network adapter (e.g. ‘Realtek PCIe GBE Family Controller’)
6. Select ‘Disable’
Once you do this, you will not be able to access anything on the Internet or your local network (e.g. a network printer or other PCs).
If you want to re-enable your Ethernet connection, follow the steps above but select ‘Enable’ instead of ‘Disable’ in step 6.
If you have Windows 8 or 10 or OS X, just Google “how to disable your internet [or Ethernet] connection in Windows 8 or 10 [or OS X].”
12. Walk through nature at least once a week.
If you really want to get away from the distractions of technology, go outside and experience nature. Walk through your local park, forest, or beach, which will help clear and rejuvenate your mind. If you bring your smartphone along, avoid using it. When experiencing nature, just experience nature.