One of the keys to living an effective life is to be fully engaged. In other words, when you are doing an activity, you are completely focused on what you are doing.
Unfortunately, staying engaged can be difficult. Part of the reason for this challenge is we have so many distractions in our lives. We have the desire to stay focused on what we are doing, but different things pop up here and there that push us off course.
Our technology doesn’t make it easy for us. Technology has improved our lives in so many ways, but in this area, it is a hinderance. Our smart phones enable us to distract ourselves easily—with a few clicks, we are down the rabbit hole of checking social media or reading articles. TV is another piece of technology that can be a distractor—we have so many channels, there is always something that can pique your interest.
What can we do about this dilemma? How can we stay engaged, rather than being distracted throughout our day? Here are a few tips:
Know Your Limits
Staying engaged for a long period of time is difficult. As human beings, we have a limited amount of energy that we can maintain focused attention. Even top performers are only able to maintain focused attention on their craft for a few hours each day. Don’t try to maintain focused attention all day—it isn’t possible. Aim for a few hours of uninterrupted engagement.
Also, it can be helpful to take breaks throughout your day and do something completely different. One rhythm that is helpful for me is to work for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. I try to do something completely different—for example, get up and take a walk. During your break, try to do something that stimulates a different part of your body. For example, if most of your work is mental, try to get into your body and do something physical on your break. On the other hand, if most of your work is physical, try to do something on your break that stimulates your mind.
Control Your Environment
Unfortunately, our environment is designed to keep us distracted. Social media is designed to keep you scrolling, so they can make money off you through advertisements. But there are some things you can do to adjust your environment to make focused engagement more likely.
The big tip here is to turn off all notifications. Notifications are by their nature distracting. You receive a buzz or ding when something happens—such as an email or comment on social media. Be ruthless about eliminating notifications. When you are trying to stay engaged, turn off all notifications on your phone and computer—even texts and calls.
Connect with Your Values
Sometimes people have trouble being fully engaged in life because they don’t really have anything they need to be engaged for. For some, checking social media or watching television is the most exciting part of their day. If this describes you, it’s time to reconnect with your values. Values are those things in your life that are most important to you. Values are different from goals. Goals are something you can achieve and check off your list. Values are ongoing patterns of committed action. Values represent how you want to show up in the world. For example, getting married is a goal. Being a loving spouse is a value. Losing 20 pounds is a goal. Being physically fit and healthy is a value.
Values are freely chosen. It’s important to select your values yourself. Don’t just adopt the same values as your family or society—it doesn’t work. When you are living a life that is consistent with your values, you will notice an increase in your motivation and energy. There’s a sense that you’re on the right track—you are engaging in activities that are important to you. This is important because you will actually want to be engaged. It will feel more important to stay focused on your task (e.g., connecting with your child, completing an important project, exercising) than scrolling through social media or watching television.
What has worked for you in the past when you have wanted to stay engaged rather than be distracted?