Distraction Syndrome: It’s Real but You Can Beat It

Distraction Syndrome: It’s Real but You Can Beat It


I absolutely adore the Internet, but there’s no doubt it has made us more distracted than ever: Constant use of laptops, switching between browser tabs, checking things on smartphones, typing in a message here and there… we all do it.

But it’s not a good formula for getting things done.

We may feel productive when we’re constantly switching between things, constantly doing something, but in all honesty, we’re not. We’re just distracted.

It’s hard to get work done, or focus on anything at all, with all of the distractions. In truth, we’re all suffering from Distraction Syndrome.

This causes people not to be able to study for class, to get important or difficult work done, to create, to be mindful throughout their day.

So what’s the cure for Distraction Syndrome?

  1. Become aware. Notice when you’re switching tasks, being pulled by social media and other distractions. If you’re not aware of the habit, you’ll never change it. Awareness can be increased over days and weeks, if you just start paying attention.
  2. See your main distractions. What are the things your mind runs to? What about these things appeals to you? What fears are you running from?
  3. Find one thing to focus on. You might have a long list, but you can’t do everything right now. Pick one: Something to study, read, or write, a harder task you’ve been putting off because you’ve been too distracted.
  4. Clear everything. Close all programmes you don’t need, your whole computer if you don’t need it. Turn off your phone or put it on silent. Just have this one task in front of you.
  5. Set a timer for 20 minutes or less. During this time, do nothing but focus on the one task you choose. No switching to other things. If you finish the task before the 20 minutes is up, pick another task to focus on for the remainder, but don’t go to your distractions.
  6. Watch your mind try to run. This will inevitably happen. It’s a part of the Distraction Syndrome. When it’s just you and your task, you’ll want to run away. You’re afraid of the focus, afraid of the difficulty, afraid of the discomfort, afraid of the uncertainty. That’s okay. You can stay with the task even with the fear. The fear is what causes you to be distracted. Sit with the urge to go to a distraction, without acting on the urge. Stay with the task.
  7. Take a break. After your 20 minutes is over, set the timer for ten minutes, and take a well-deserved break. Allow yourself to go to the distractions that have been pulling at you. But when the break is over, go to the next task on your list or back to the one you weren’t finished with. This break will give your mind some relief, which it needs.

Incidentally, this process is a form of meditation. But it takes consistent practice. Start today, see where you falter, forgive yourself and try again tomorrow. With practice, you’ll develop a less distracted mental habit and accomplish more meaningful things.

Related: ‘Reboot’ Your Brain and Refresh Your Focus in 15 Minutes or Less


Leo Babauta
Maestro of simplicity, best selling author of Zen Habits and voted in the 25 top blogs, follow him on twitter at zan_habits.