Eliminate Distractions

Missy Franklin, Me and Katie Ledecky
Olympians Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky and me at last week’s USA Today 30th Birthday bash.

Fathering a child, starting companies, writing books, getting work done, working out… Finding time for all of these things requires discipline and focus.

That’s why over the past couple of years and in particular recent months, I have eliminated distractions wherever possible.

Here are six things I have intentionally nixed from my day-to-day life:

1) Unnecessary social networking time on Facebook and Twitter. Odd, as I need to be present on these networks for business and relationships, but they can be incredible time wasters.

Instead of staying logged on with an open screen, I manage network engagement in flights. During these periods I check in on people, comment, and respond, but I refuse to spend hours on end in Facebook.

2) Email time. I am an inbox zero person, so I scan or read more than 200-300 emails a day but only write 20-40 a day. That means I delete a lot more frequently than I respond.

Each serious email gets weighed with this question, does it really need a response? Also, I don’t answer emails as soon as they come in, often waiting to handle them in batches.

Sunrise @ Narrabeen

3) Hardest thing comes first. Whatever my most difficult and/or necessary task of the day is — the one thing gnawing at my brain — I handle it first.

Get it right off the plate, usually before my daughter wakes up (7:30), or right after she goes to daycare or Caitlin takes her for the day. That way I don’t have to think about it anymore, and I can enjoy my day.

4) He said, she said bullshit. Whether online, in my email or at a networking event, I pretty much ignore or bail on any gossip related to what someone else is doing right or wrong. It wastes time, and looking down on others puts you in a losing mindframe.

5) Worrying about what others are doing. Very similar to number four, but in truth focusing on what other consultants and colleagues are doing is a great waste of time. I can’t stop people from doing whatever they’re going to do.

In allowing others to rent space in my head, I distract myself from what matters most, the tasks at hand. So if I don’t like something or I’m afraid of another’s actions, I mentally turn my chin forward and bear down on the next right thing that I can do. Everyone’s happier that way.

Unfortunately, I had the chance to practice this during the week when a rumor about me floated across a private channel. Rather than react publicly or address the creator directly, I shook it off and doubled down on my work. So glad to be at a point where I can do that.

6) Turn the phone off. When I am with Soleil or in a business meeting or need to concentrate, I turn my phones off or leave them in the car. Smartphones are way too easy to pick up, and then waste 5, 15 or event 30 minutes on.

It’s better to be present, then pick up the phone and check all of these non-important things like email, socnets, etc.

Wait, There’s More!

In addition to eliminating distractions whenever possible, I do a few other things to keep moving forward.

I write every day. Every day. I miss this goal a couple times a month. Sometimes the writing never sees the light of day, but the practice of writing allows me to write books, blog consistently, etc.

Working out five or six days a week really clears my head and keeps me creatively in tune.

I also insist on having fun. I basically ensure that I go to a game, watch a movie, take a photo walk, or read a book a couple times a week. Otherwise, I wouldn’t ever take a break beyond exercise.

There’s no perfection with these guidelines, like anyone, I’m guilty of wanking off on Facebook or missing a work out. But 90% of the time, these principles are in play.

How do you stay focused on your goals?


  • Geoff,

    your post couldn’t be more timely for me! I have a lot of things on my plate right now (including dealing with a physical issue) and realize that I’m doing way too much time wasting. I usually stay away from gossip, and don’t keep tabs on who’s doing what in my circle of friends, which sometimes gets me in trouble. So, I’m knocking out all that time-wasting online social stuff and making my time more productive. And maybe doing some real social stuff, if I feel the need.

    • Funny how breaking away from it gives you clarity, and lets you enjoy it more. And you know what, I think the social stuff is a distraction often. What am I avoiding? I hope your health improves quickly!

  • I follow a similar pattern…only respond to emails in the morning and evening (unless it’s a client), write every day, read blog posts just in the AM, stay off the social networks for most of the day, work out religiously, and move through my to-do list like my life depends on it. It’s the only way to get things accomplished!

    • You have been a great role model for me, Gini. I don’t do the fan boy thing (how could I and be me?), but know that you have been a fantastic influence, and I am grateful to have worked with you!!!

      • And you the same for me! I was just talking about our writing process yesterday during a speaking engagement. People think it’s pretty amazing how we did it.

  • Good post, as always. RE email. Best thing I did was sign up for Sanebox.com it actually works. Really !

    PS: Do you know what wanking off means? I grew up in London :)

  • You’re a smart guy. I’m glad i know you.

    How long are your social media “flights”? I’ve been thinking about doing the same thing but it’s hard to pick an interval that isn’t too long yet also useful. And as an example, right now, on a day off, I’ve spent 20 minutes *just* going through my Triberr stream. Gah!

    • I do 15 minutes. And I do Triberr at the end of the day. I curate other content during working hours. Trying to avoid stream clog.

  • This post plays into restructuring my priorities. Over the past three months I have been examining my time investments and making changes to my daily life. Thanks for a boost with your tips on priority management.

  • Geoff – Seems that it is really all about focus. With so much noise, all around, crying for our attention, it is ever so important to choose a path and stay on it.

    Removing the distractions (ie.turning off the phone, logging out of SoMe) etc., also removes the temptation.

    Thanks for your insight.


    • Funny, when I get distracted, which I do a couple times a day, that’s what I say to myself, “Focus, focus, focus!”

      The other image I use is a deep blue ocean. Behind me are the distractions, I want to get clear of… Go for the deep blue ocean where there’s no one but me, and my tasks at hand.

  • Good insights Geoff. I stay focused on my professional goals by driving everything back to my personal goals – goals for my personal relationships – my bride, my kids, my dogs, my friends, my community – the dreams I still aspire to for myself – the wake I wish to leave as I pass through this world. I want everything I do in my professional life to support, in a least some small way, the goals I have for a deep and satisfying life.

    • Yeah, when I look at my little girl I really struggle to get lost in the distractions. Constant reminder to work on what matters…

  • I have a good friend who reminds me;) I also run regularly with a running buddy/ take many breaks throughout the day to stand, stretch and move/ keep a reminder on my desk (hmmmm, that quote looks familiar:)/ know that my focus gets interrupted when I allow the “small stuff” to look like the “big stuff”, and it’s time to either talk to a trusted friend/colleague or do something that I love, to regain my focus. Cheers! Kaarina

    • And when that small stuff takes over we look back at the day and what we wanted to accomplish, and then we think, WTF? Worse, over a period of time we see our lack of accomplishments, and negative emotions take over.

      No. Forward we must go. Cheers!

  • I write every day but I don’t publish everything I write. The point and purpose is to keep my skills sharp so that when I am on deadline I can produce solid content in a reasonable amount of time.

    I have turned off most of the notifications on my phone so that I am not distracted by every email/text that comes in. I check it periodically to make sure there is nothing critical that I need to attend to.

    Most days include 15 minutes on the treadmill in the morning. It is not an “official” workout but it gets my blood pumping and gives me quiet time to get my head in the game.

    Emails are responded to as needed and when time is available. People have the misguided impression that just because we can respond instantly that we should.

    It is a mistake. I have made a point to let people know I will respond quickly but not immediately. When you show them your time is valuable they respect it.

    • I agree, and there is a good message in your comment about time valuation. When we value our time (and others), they respect it in return. This of course, create the perception of value, which (rightfully) allows you to charge more!

  • I get distracted easily during the day by social networking. I have started timing myself which also allows me to track and measure how effectively I use that time. This is a great way to not take on more than I can handle.

    • I am sure that you are right, that the timing of your efforts online makes a huge difference and awareness.

  • This is a great list Geoff, thanks for sharing it. I’m really struggling with Triberr… I hate passing along links without having read, then approved them (to myself), commenting, and customizing the tweet. What a time suck… something will come to a head.

    • I really have found myself relying on headlines. If they suck, I don’t go further. Plus I have identified authors I trust and am more willing to RT based on title.

  • Fantastic insights, Geoff! I think these things are so important, yet often difficult to put into practice. It’s really about building good habits. Or, as I like to say, developing a rhythm. I’m at my best when I’ve built in time to do the things that really matter. Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to get caught up in email, social media or other time wasters. It all takes incredible discipline!

    I use timers a lot – especially when it comes to social media and writing. That way, I don’t look up and realize I’ve let an hour pass. I allow myself time, but I try to keep it focused.

  • Great post.

  • Great ideas, Geofff. Keep the focus and keep things simple. I am not capable of juggling too many balls at once. One at a time, completely focused, and with full attention. Everything else will have to wait its turn.


  • There was a period in my life when almost all your list was a reality for me. Reflecting on how I was usually so tirelessly focused was when – there was NO social media and NO cell phones. Guess I need to adjust now that they are here to stay! LOL. Great insights for my introvert tribe. Thanks.

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