Dealing with interruptions

Smart phones provide us instant access to a vast array of information and tools which, if used well, benefit our lives in many ways.

For many people though, their phone is the single most ubiquitous source of distractions in their working life. It will reduce how productive and effective you are each day, if you let it.

If you are someone who does creative work for a living, such as writing, coding, designing or drawing, then you can realise huge productivity gains, and produce higher quality work, by take a few moments to eliminate as many distractions as possible before you begin work, even if it’s just for an hour at a time. Firstly:

  • Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode, switch it off, or leave it in another room


  • If you work on a Mac, it has the same Do Not Disturb feature, and you can turn it on as well. Look up on the far right corner to open the notifications centre.
  • Close all apps and programs on your computer that you don’t need for the work you are doing right now, especially email and messaging apps. If you work in a web browser, close all of the tabs down except the ones that you need.
  • Shut the door. If you work in an open office with no door to close, put on headphones and play something from
  • If your environment can be noisy, using ear plugs make a huge difference. I use ear plugs in combination with headphones playing turned up loud (so that the music makes it through the ear plugs).

The whole idea is to completely eliminate interruptions and allow you to get into a state of flow. Some studies have shown that interruptions cost as much as 6 hours per day in productivity and result in higher levels of stress, reduced work enjoyment and poorer work quality.

Once you have dealt with all of the above, you then need to work out arrangements with your boss, colleagues, or other household members (if you work from home) so that you can carve out time in your day where people respect your need for zero interruptions.

Have those conversations now. At the same time reassure people that if there is an emergency, then of course you can be interrupted.

Don’t underestimate how much interruptions are costing you. Your best work is produced in an environment where you can focus on what you are doing without being interrupted, and without allowing distractions to creep in.

If you found this article useful, then also check out How to get stuff done and Your iPhone is killing your productivity.

Should you have a backup plan?

It is very common advice that we should have something we can ‘fall back on’. To have a safer and more achievable objective.

Forget about your backup plan, I say. Put all of your energy into what you really want to do with your life.

Backup plans are the ones we make when we fear that we will fail at the plan that we really want to achieve. If you think you need one, then consider that it’s your relationship to failure that needs to change.

Failure is a perfectly normal part of becoming successful. If you are not experiencing failure, then you are not in the game.

During his baseball career, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, but he also had 1,330 strikeouts, a record of failures that held for over 30 years.

Michael Jordan made over 32,000 points in his career, the fourth highest point scorer in NBA history still today, but he missed over 9,000 shots along the way.

Even if you do fail, it doesn’t mean your life is over. You just learned a valuable lesson.

Now get up, and try again.

You have to learn the beat

When you start something new, it feels awkward, clunky, and uncomfortable.

I started to attend Crossfit classes a few months ago, and even though I’ve been lifting weights most of my adult life, I felt completely out of my depth. The training is intense and includes a lot of exercises I’ve never done before. There is also an accompanying terminology to learn with acronyms like WOD (Workout Of the Day), AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible), and MetCon (Metabolic Conditioning).

At first, I only wanted to go to Crossfit once per week as it took me that long to recover from each workout. Now I’m going twice per week, not only because my physical conditioning has improved, but my mental conditioning too. With practice, I’ve become more comfortable with the training, with the exercises, and I’ve noticed that the class generally follows a now familiar rhythm.

I’ve begun to learn the beat, as Stephen King said in his book, On Writing.

This process of becoming familiar with the mechanics and processes of any given task, occupation, or new endeavour is a necessary step on the path to mastery. You will feel resistance as you move into unfamiliar territory, and that’s normal.

With consistent practice, you will learn the beat, until it becomes second nature.

Do the work

This is the unavoidable fact that accompanies any endeavour, new business, project or whatever it is. You are going to have to work.

A lot.

This frightens some people. So much so, that they don’t even begin, or they quit at the first sign of resistance.

So if you are not afraid of work, then you are off to a good start, because it is the essential ingredient needed to shift the odds of succeeding in your favour.

Consider the author Stephen King, who in early 1973, aged 26, was living in a trailer with his wife and two children (that’s a caravan for us aussies), earning $6,000 a year as a full-time teacher, with no phone because he couldn’t afford the monthly rental.

He had just drafted the first 3 pages of Carrie, hated what he had written, and threw it in the wastepaper basket. That same night his wife Tabitha plucked those pages out and encouraged him to keep writing. To keep doing the work.

Stephen finished the manuscript for Carrie in a few months and DoubleDay subsequently accepted it with a $2500 advance, more than he had ever received for a book before.

Just a few months later, Signet books bought the paperback rights to Carrie, for which Stephen received US$200,000.

Was he just lucky? Sure, he had a little bit of luck when his wife pulled those three pages out of the wastepaper basket, but he also put in a lot of work.

Stephen began his writing career writing career twenty years before Carrie made him into a household name. He started as a 6-year old, copying Combat Casey comic books, word for word, and later writing mostly short stories to make ends meet. It’s hard to estimate the volume of work he did over the next two decades, but his word count must have been in the millions. I’ve been writing this blog for 2 months and I’m up to about 15,000 words.

A lot of emphasis is placed on planning, setting milestones, or making business roadmaps. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a plan, but they don’t matter anywhere near as much as putting in the work.

As Arnie says, work your ass off.

If you liked this article, then check out The myth of a balanced life, and also Are you the tortoise or the hare?

The ultimate litmus test

So you’ve started on your project, new business, diet, exercise regimen, or whatever endeavour it is that has been gnawing at you for ages.

Now that you’ve begun, you are starting to get some runs on the board. Things are taking shape, your enthusiasm is building and so is your vision for how this will look in the future.

Then, all of a sudden, BAM!

You hit the wall.

Or, as Steven Pressfield put it in Do The Work:

You’ve entered the belly of the beast.

The budget you had in mind needs to be doubled, just to get to a minimum viable product.

Your significant other is getting cold feet and thinks you should drop this and focus on a more secure occupation.

You’ve just reviewed everything you’ve written in the past 3 months, it’s crap, and it needs to go in the bin.

You’ve been eating all of the right food, sticking with your exercise routine, but the scales say your weight has gone up, not down.

Or, you’ve been working on your dissertation for the best part of a year, but your supervisor thinks you are way off base, and now you have to do a complete rewrite.

This, dear reader, is our old friend resistance, and unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere.

You are not going to suddenly wake up one morning and find that it’s all smooth seas ahead. Resistance will try to derail you any chance it gets, and one of it’s favourite strategies is to throw up obstacles in your path after you are fully invested in your project, when you are the most vulnerable.

What it all boils down to is that Resistance offers us a test, the answer to which is the ultimate truth as to whether you should continue with your new business, play, movie, book, exercise regimen, or whatever.

Tony Robbins and Steven Pressfield both seem to agree that the test is this question:

How bad do you want it?

Quoting once again from the book Do The Work, Steven Pressfield proposes that you mark your answer on this scale:

  1. Dabbling
  2. Interested
  3. Intrigued but Uncertain
  4. Passionate
  5. Totally Committed

Did you pick number 5?

If you didn’t, quit now. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s with one foot in the ring and one foot out. Passion, enthusiasm, and the feeling that this is a great idea that just might work will eventually fall prey to resistance.

If you did choose number 5, then good for you. Now get back to work.

You might lose everything

The older we get, the less willing we are to take risks.

The more money, status, possessions, fame, respect or comfort we accumulate, the more we want to protect those things.

Elon Musk banked $180 million when he sold his share of PayPal to eBay in 2002, and 6 years later it was all on the line with SpaceX. If the fourth launch of the Falcon 1 rocket had failed in 2008, then SpaceX likely would have gone bankrupt.

Elon could not let go of the idea that the future of the human race involves becoming a multi-planetary species, and for him quitting was not an option, even if he lost all of his money in the process of trying.

Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, was once quoted as saying:

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.

What he meant was that losing any of the things we work so hard to accumulate isn’t nearly as important as allowing our ideas and dreams to die with us when we get to the end of our lives.

I also think we can become so comfortable with our group of friends, that we are afraid that reaching for the stars will mean leaving them behind.

That might also be true. But you will find new and better friends, and some of your old friends will be inspired by your example.

At the very least, there will be you, and the work you find the most fulfilling. Isn’t that work taking risks for?

Settling for

Playing it safe in life is an idea often perpetuated by our parents, teachers or friends.

Our parents want to protect us, our teachers want us not to turn out as deadbeats, and our friends want us to be like them.

If you subscribe to the idea of playing it safe though, you are most certainly going to be settling for in life.

Helen Keller, who became permanently deaf and blind at just 19 months old, wrote:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

If your life feels somehow unfulfilled, consider that you are probably just playing it safe. That thing that you want to do is probably not going to work out, or so you think. That’s resistance doing what it does best, which is to stop you from advancing yourself or any act of creation you can conceive.

So be bold, advance, and move forward. Time will not wait for you.

You know enough to get started

Whatever you want to do with your life, whether it’s starting a business, or helping those in need, or writing a book, or losing weight, don’t wait until you learn more.

The feeling that you will fail because you don’t know enough is just resistance doing it’s very best to stop you in your tracks. It’s a form of procrastination.

There are plenty of examples throughout history of people who many thought were just plain dumb for taking on the tasks they set themselves, or for the decisions they made.

I doubt that Winston Churchill knew the enormity of the task before him when he made his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech in 1940, effectively committing Britain to fight against the German army until the death of their last citizen. Some thought him incredibly stupid and naive.

The founders of PayPal often attribute their success to the fact that collectively, they knew very little about finance and the banking industry.

Also consider Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 at the tender age of 25, made a 33.5 hour, 5800 km non-stop flight from New York to Paris, across the Atlantic ocean. Did he have all of the facts he needed to be 100% confident he would make the flight? Probably not.

What they all had was a willingness to act. To take a course of action often based on sheer blind faith that they were going to make it.

Once you take action, you can always change course, revisit what you’ve done, and use the new data to take further action, perhaps in a slightly different direction. Until you start though, you will accomplish nothing.

So whatever is, no matter how little or how much you know, begin it now.

Resistance shows us the way

Previously I wrote about the idea that we all have a calling in life, and I’ve also written about how resistance is the enemy. Steven Pressfield wrote about resistance in The War of Art, and he also described how it can help point our lives in the right direction in another book, Do The Work:

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we feel towards pursuing it.

So if what feels like resistance does come up in whatever endeavour we are pursuing, how do we know if we should push on, or that it’s a loser that we should quit? This is a question I’ve pondered previously.

This is where instinct comes in to play. It’s like a compass that helps point the way, while resistance tries to shove us in the opposite direction.

Learning to follow your instincts doesn’t have to be a laborious process, but it is going to involve trial and error. If you have this nagging feeling that you should do something, that’s your instincts talking.

Sometimes what you thought was the right path to go on is going to prove to be a dead end. I like to think that the work that you had to do to get to that dead end made you evolve in some necessary way, so it’s not all wasted effort.

Work, zig, zag, adjust, and sometimes, start over.

You can do anything, or can you?

I have often said to my kids (and to myself) that they can do anything they want to do with their lives, but now I’m not so sure that’s the best advice.

After doing a lot of reading, talking and pondering, the idea that resonates the most with me as that our life is not full of unlimited choices. I believe we all have a very specific calling, or personal destiny. Rather than shape ourselves into some personal ideal, our job is simply to find out who we are and become it.

Whether you believe that or not, consider the evidence for this in your own personality, or in that of your children.

For example, I have two sons aged only 2 years apart, and I feel like they have been raised more or less in the same way. And yet, their personalities are vastly different. One is stoic, the other more sensitive. One has endless topics he likes to talk about, the other only speaks when he feels it is necessary. Their uniqueness becomes more evident the older they get.

Even my one year old daughter is showing signs of a personality that is distinctly different from that of her big brothers. It’s not so much that her character is developing, but more that it’s revealing itself.

Some refer to this as the dichotomy of nature vs nurture. I like to think that our essential character, the person we are at our core, is something that is timeless. It is ideally suited to us and our own personal destiny.

So acknowledge and accept who you are, your interests, fears and desires. Don’t let anyone else tell you who you should be or what you should do with your life.

Don’t spend forever dreaming though. At some point you are still going to have to get to work.