How Keeping a "Distraction Journal" Completely Revitalized My Workflow
I tend to get distracted easily. I'm the type of person to close her computer at the end of the day only to realize that she had a half-written email she never sent. I tend to get a bit of everything done, but I struggle to fully complete tasks well. This situation only worsened last fall when I went back to school part-time and found myself writing essays on a frequent basis. After four years of writing essays during my undergraduate degree, the one thing I learned was to break up a big task, like writing an essay, into mini, accomplishable tasks and create a schedule for them.
However, I still struggled to keep myself on schedule to complete those mini tasks, compiling research, creating an outline, etc. I could get organized by breaking it into those smaller tasks, but I still struggle to be productive. I would constantly feel the urge to get a snack, go to the bathroom, check my blog, check social media... If there was a distraction available, I would find it. And while I try to restrain myself and focus on writing my damn essay, I just couldn't bring myself to sit down and do it.
Then, while listening to The Perfectionism Project podcast, I was introduced to a new productivity technique called a "distraction journal." The concept is super simple. My distraction journal is essentially a table where I keep a running tally of my urges to check my phone. I make a list with columns, and at the top of each column, I write down all the reasons that I could possibly be distracted. For me, it's social media, emails/texts, personal finance, blogging updates and fidgeting. This is how the distraction journal system works.
後來我從《完美主義計畫》（The Perfectionism Project）這個 podcast 認識了一種新的提高產能的技巧，叫做「分心日誌」。概念非常簡單。分心日誌基本上就是一個表格，讓我紀錄想拿起手機的次數。我做了一個欄位列表，在欄位最上面，我寫下所有我有可能分心的原因。對我來說，會讓我分心的事情有社群網站、電子郵件/簡訊、個人財務、更新部落格、坐立不安。分心日誌就是這麼運作的。
After I create this table, I close up all of my tabs, put my phone in a drawer, and get to work. Every time I feel the urge to reach for my phone to check my texts, instead of opening the drawer, I mark a tally under the emails/texts columns. And whenever I think of something I need to do, I write it down as a task below my table instead of actually starting it. This way, I ensure I don't forget about the reminders popping up in my head, but I also prevent myself from diving headfirst into something totally different than what I was currently doing. I do this for about an hour. And then I allow myself a five-minute break. After about 10 months of using this system, this is what I've learned.
One: I usually reach for my phone out of habit. One of the biggest revelations I made while keeping this journal is that I usually simply reach for my phone as a reflex. When I try to tally the reason why I'm reaching for my phone, most of the time it goes under "fidgeting." Because I can't come up with a solid answer. I've realized that the distractions I blamed for my unproductivity aren't coming to me. I'm actually seeking them out. Of course, writing an essay is not as much fun as scrolling through memes. But that's not Instagram's fault. Keeping this journal has taught me that I need to work on controlling my own urges to check social media, not on deleting or deactivating the apps themselves.
一：我經常習慣性地去拿手機。我記錄日誌最大的發現就是我常常反射性地去拿手機。我試圖要紀錄我為什麼想拿手機，大部分的結果都是紀錄在「坐立不安」那欄下面。因為我沒辦法想出一個確切的原因。我也發現，那些我怪罪會害我分心的事情並不是自己出現的。其實是我自己去找來的。當然，寫報告一定不會跟滑哏圖一樣有趣。但那不是 Instagram 的錯。記錄這個日誌教會我，我必須克制自己想要看社群媒體的衝動，而不是直接刪掉或關閉應用程式。
Number two: Nothing earth-shattering happens when I'm working. Throughout the years, I've lied to myself by thinking, "Oh, I have to keep my phone on in case of an emergency or in case something big happens." But it's always been just an excuse. Plus, there is a way around this idea of always having your phone on for emergency purposes. On the iPhone, there's a feature called "Emergency Bypass." You can select this feature under ringtones for a specific person, and it will even ring when your phone is on silent. I use this feature occasionally, but I've learned that everything else on social media will still be there after I'm done with my work.
Number three: Setting breaks is healthy. I used to think that I could work without breaks. Because I was just so productive, and I should be using that five to ten minutes to work on another task. However, I found that I'm more productive when I give myself a set break time instead of letting those nagging questions like "Am I hungry?" and "Should I go to the bathroom now or later?" bounce around in my head. Now I don't think about them. I address those issues during my break time. Setting a break time also means that I allow myself a specific amount of time to check my phone. However, it also prevents me from going into a 30-minute self-pity spiral as I scroll through perfect photos on Instagram.
第三：設定休息時間是健康的。我以前都覺得自己不用休息，可以一直工作。因為我實在生產力太高了，所以我一定要用那五到十分鐘去做另一個工作。然而，我發現給自己固定的休息時間會比較有效率，寧願不要讓自己腦袋一直想著「我是不是餓了？」或是「我該現在去廁所還是等等再去？」這種問題。我現在根本不會想到這些問題。我會在休息時間處理那些事情。設定休息時間也就代表我讓我自己有固定的時間可以看手機。然而，這也能阻止我陷入惡性循環，避免我滑 IG 時看到完美的照片就自憐自艾地給自己 30 分鐘的休息時間。
Number four: It is better to finish a few tasks well instead of a million tasks half-assed. I used to pride myself on being the person who's always busy. But what that has actually translated to is me completing semi-mediocre work most of the time, only to polish it off at the last minute. Whenever I used to write essays, I would lack a lot of structure. Keeping this distraction journal method gave me more accountability and forced me to assess how much work I was completing every hour since I was taking regular breaks. I am amazed by the amount of work I can get done in two to three hours in the evening instead of eight hours in the library. I used to wonder why it would take me a whole day to complete a task that should've taken hours. I now know that it was my constant need for distractions.
I originally started keeping a distraction journal because I needed to get my school work done. However, I've slowly started to incorporate it into my work life. It has allowed me to create realistic deadlines for my tasks, which both keeps me from feeling overwhelmed and helps me stick to what I need to get done, which makes it easier on everyone around me. I've learned that it's so easy to glorify being busy, but that doesn't always translate to being productive. Taking a long time to complete a task doesn't mean I'm actually doing it better. I now strive to complete things well and hopefully reduce the number of tally marks in the "fidgeting" column.