There are countless external distractions that can keep you from focusing on what’s important. Some of these distractions are really important, and you need to pay attention them. Your child calling from the school sick and needing a ride home. Your best client calling with a serious challenge that needs your attention. These important external distractions happen, but not so frequently as to be the source of a real productivity problem.
Most of the external distractions aren’t really important and shouldn’t command your attention. That conversation about the game last night. The water cooler chatter about Game of Thrones or Walking Dead (two of the only television shows I ever watch, and a conversation that could easily drag me away from what I was doing). The weapon of mass distraction, the Internet, with all of its countless novelties and trivialities.
You can shut down, turn off, and avoid the external distractions if you are disciplined and thoughtful. You can say “no” to these distractions. But there are other distractions that are more difficult to turn off.
You might have a lot of things on your mind that distract you from being productive. If you have a health issue, it can be hard to find focus. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep or are dehydrated you can also have poor focus. Or maybe you have a relationship challenge that is commanding your attention. Internal distractions are more complicated.
But mostly, these important internal distractions aren’t what prevents you from doing the work you should be doing. Instead, you do nothing when you aren’t compelled by your real purpose, your mission. You do nothing when you haven’t spent the time to think deeply about your real goals, short and long term. If you haven’t spent the time to plan your week and your days, committing to doing what will move you closer to your goals, you sit paralyzed in a reactive mode, waiting for the world to work on you and for someone to provide you with what comes next.
This would not be the case if you made widgets, but because you do knowledge work, you have to define your own work.
To be truly productive, you have to do the work that helps you fulfill your purpose, your mission. You have to do the work that gives your life meaning. You have to continually do the few things necessary to move you ever close to the goals you’ve defined for yourself. This doesn’t mean you ignore whatever captures your attention. This is the work that fuels you, that allows you to be productive, leaving those distractions for their proper time, and keeping you on course in the other areas of your life–in spite of internal distractions.