Stop Distracting Me, I’m Trying to Procrastinate

Yesterday I was writing at the library when I noticed a girl working at a nearby table. Like me, she had some work laid out in front of her. Unlike me, she also had a wireless laptop set just beyond her work. In addition to her trusty personal computer, she also had her mobile phone set on the table within arm’s reach.

During my writing session, I noticed how she would frequently turn towards her laptop to click around on the internet. In addition to this primary distraction, her cell phone vibrated every few minutes. Each time this happened, she let out an exasperated sigh, picked up her phone, glanced at the display, pressed its buttons maniacally, and set it back down.

She did this for the entire duration of my visit.  Send text, place the phone back on the table, and turn back to the computer. If the phone vibrates, let out an exasperated sigh, pick up the phone again, and start from step one.

It amused me because every time she sighed, I imagined she must be thinking “Stop distracting me, I’m trying to procrastinate!”

You might argue that perhaps she was using her computer as a reference tool to aid in her work — but chances are that she wasn’t.  She was browsing the easily recognizable social networking site “MySpace.”

So here she was, in the library with an intention to get some work done, constantly being distracted by the electronic devices she had brought along with her. Although both devices could be turned off to prevent them from interrupting her work, she preferred to keep them on.

I don’t blame her, because I do the exact same thing.  I leave my phone on all the time.  If I feel it vibrate, then I know someone wants to talk to me.  It takes priority over whatever I’m doing and I happily let them interrupt me to see what they need.

Similarly, my home computer is a tool capable of doing multiple things, often at once.  It’s a word processor, a publishing platform, a calculator, a copy machine, a photo editor, a dictionary, an infinite information resource, and all-purpose productivity powerhouse.  Computers are designed to increase productivity, and when used for this purpose, they are a valuable tool indeed.

Interestingly, computers are also an incredible time-wasting tool.  As such, they are a procrastinator’s best friend:

You can use your computer as an encyclopedia, or a television. You can download research, or hardcore pornography. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can watch Saturday morning cartoons that haven’t been aired since the 1980s.  Or you can play classic Nintendo games using your Internet browser.  Or you can play old Apple IIe games.  You can compete in online Pictionary tournaments.  And when your Internet connection is on the fritz, you can always play solitaire — or minesweeper if know what the numbers mean.

There’s an infinite number of things that can be accessed using your computer that can usurp your attention and distract you from the task at hand.  I know this because it happens to me all the time.

Today I want to accomplish a set amount of things:  I want to publish a new blog post, I want to write two more pages of my manuscript-in-progress, and I want to reply to two important email messages.  That’s not much — so it seems reasonable that I should be able to accomplish most of these things before my girlfriend comes home from work around 4pm.

By 9:30 this morning, I already had tonight’s dinner cooking on low in the crock pot.  I already had an idea for a blog post inspired by an experience I had yesterday.  I wrote down the working title for the post and hopped into the shower.  My subconscious mind went to work at it while I was showering, and by the time I was dressed I knew what I wanted the article to say.

So I turned on my computer.  Although I should have started writing immediately, I checked my email first.  My email inbox contained nothing but spam, so then I wanted to check Reddit for something more interesting.  Reddit linked me to a YouTube video, so then I browsed YouTube. I found a funny video, so then I wanted to share that funny video with some of my friends.  I launched Instant Messenger, so then I chatted with several of my friends.  It was taking a while for my friends to reply to my messages, so then I decided to play a game of Monopoly against the computer while I waited.  The computer beat me the first game, so then I had to keep playing until I had my revenge.  My email program notified me that I had a new message from an old friend from high school, so then I caught up with an old friend from high school. I was reminded of the video games we used to play, so then I beat the first 6 stages of Megaman… and then I realized it was well past noon and I hadn’t even started the tasks I truly wanted to do today.

This is the story of our lives.  We want to accomplish things but let other things get in the way.

Typically, the things that distract us are relatively unimportant, but we welcome the distraction.  In many ways, the distraction is an escape.  We watch television because it’s easier to watch other people do things than to actually do things.  We even watch television reruns — not because there’s any new value in them, but because the feeling of familiarity is comforting, which is a value in itself.  We spend our workdays looking for interesting things to read online just to kill time, and promptly forget the vast majority of all that we read.

This creates an interesting paradox. Perhaps you expected this article to discuss methods for getting motivated. Instead, I simply talked about things that tend to distract me.  Maybe some of these things even sounded fun to you, and you plan to search for them once you’re through with this article.  Or maybe you’ll just click the next feed in your reader and look forward to the next escape.

Oh, and if you’re looking for advice on how to conquer procrastination, please know that you probably won’t find that advice in a blog post.  Unless it’s a really short blog post:

How to Get Things Done in 2 Simple Steps!

  1. Stop reading this blog.
  2. Start getting things done.
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21 Responses to “Stop Distracting Me, I’m Trying to Procrastinate”

#1 Swombat on 15, Jan, 2008 at 2:46 pm

For writing with fewer distactions, once you get yourself a Mac, I suggest investing in a copy of Scrivener. It darkens out the background around the area where you’re typing, and thus greatly reduces distractions.

#2 Drew on 15, Jan, 2008 at 3:05 pm

So… where do I find Megaman on line? 😀

#3 Shaun Boyd on 15, Jan, 2008 at 3:15 pm

There’s a free utility I use called JDarkRoom which accomplishes the same thing.

I was expecting someone would ask.

#4 Robert Plumer on 15, Jan, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Sounds exactly like me online,lol.

#5 Eric on 15, Jan, 2008 at 6:11 pm

To avoid the reddit/digg trap, I created a little program called nlock. It sets up an alternate hosts file so I can’t get to slashdot, digg, reddit, and a bunch of other sites I’ve recognized as attention traps. To open it back up I run nunlock (Nun lock? hmm) and it just restores the open hosts file.

Anyway, adding that extra step helps me a lot with that specific distraction. Looks like I might need to add your site to the list of distractions now 🙂

#6 James Urquhart on 15, Jan, 2008 at 7:33 pm

I used to spend a lot of time browsing through my bookmarks, typically looking at the blogs, until of course i determined that it was too much of a time waster.

My “solution” to this particular issue was to prune all of my bookmarks down, and subscribe to all of the blog feeds using Google reader. Now instead of browsing through my bookmarks, i read everything on Google reader. In effect i consolidated my rather haphazard and distraction prone workflow and went for something simpler.

In general i would say focus balanced with a bit of discipline is key to preventing procrastination.

#7 Rudolf Olah on 16, Jan, 2008 at 12:17 am

Ugh, reddit is the killer one for me. I can’t help but find at least 3 links I want to check out.

@Eric: That’s a good idea. Definitely going to start blocking websites from myself.

#8 @Stephen on 16, Jan, 2008 at 7:59 am

I have a rule when I am working on writing that I check my email and RSS from 6-8:00 am, then have breakfast with my wife. When she goes to workat 9:00, Thunderbird gets closed and I get to work until noon. Then I read email and reply while eating my lunch. Then it’s off again and back to work. It’s a big help when you don’t get interrupted by the “ding” of an incoming message. Plus I am not a texter, so I don’t have that particular problem.
Great advice. Now it’s 8:00, so good bye until tomorrow!

#9 Hunter Nuttall on 16, Jan, 2008 at 9:08 am

Are you kidding me? You give a link to VirtualNES in a post (well, the comments) about procrastination? I’m not going to get anything done for the rest of my life. 🙂

But seriously, thanks for the link. I can actually justify it as work, because now I can obtain the screenshot I need from The Legend of Zelda for my post “Top 10 Reasons Not To Have A Job” (see my link). I’m currently using another Zelda pic that isn’t a great fit.

#10 Big City Hippie » Links on 18, Jan, 2008 at 12:36 am

[…] Stop distracting me, I’m trying to procrastinate! […]

#11 Adrian @ Path to Your Destiny on 18, Jan, 2008 at 11:31 am

The irony is that I came to this website to see what you recently posted, as a form of idle distraction, and I encounter this article. 🙁

#12 Hunter Nuttall on 20, Jan, 2008 at 9:43 pm

I played Zelda on VirtualNES this weekend. It was great fun to play again, and I got the screenshot I needed for my blog. Thanks again for the link! I just have to be careful not to use it to procrastinate now.

#13 Pranav on 22, Jan, 2008 at 8:00 am

Well, you just described me again. I hate doing this, but then again, I fall victim to my distractions. Kudos to you for pointing this out. I am definitely going to do something about it….but let me first quickly read the latest Garfield cartoon strip…and then oh, I remember I have to check mail…..

#14 Nancy on 09, Dec, 2008 at 12:09 am

“How to Get Things Done in 2 Simple Steps!
1. Stop reading this blog.
2. Start getting things done.”
It’s not that easy; now I’ve just read all the comments as well…
And I have the same case as poster #11 :/

#15 Rodent on 26, Sep, 2009 at 8:12 pm

I was just thinking about how I was procrastinating by reading this article to distract myself from the fact that I was procrastinating.
I’ll get started now. 🙂

#16 yamini on 20, Mar, 2010 at 11:16 pm

ya, so I came here researching for a d a debate, and you helped out a lot

#17 yamini on 20, Mar, 2010 at 11:16 pm

ya, so I came here researching for a debate, and you helped out a lot

#18 LauWren on 02, May, 2010 at 10:43 pm

I found this post by Googling distract me. This is, in fact, the first link.

Life’s funny that way.

*goes off to work on her paper*

#19 D on 12, Jul, 2010 at 12:45 am

I just did the same thing as LauWren.

Mission accomplished ;).

#20 Felix on 04, Oct, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I got this link from a friend and read it. Instead of following the last 2 steps, I ended up reading all the comments. By the time this ended, I was writing my own comment!

#21 Randy on 13, Dec, 2012 at 10:39 am

Lol that stabbed me. I’ll go and get things done.

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