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Plus Habits — What Ingmar Bergman Can Teach You About Minimizing Distractions

In an interview with Vogue in 2014, Linn Ullmann, a novelist and the daughter of the legendary Swedish filmmaker behind classics like Persona and The Seventh Seal, was asked this question, “How have your parents, who have inspired so many writers, filmmakers, and actors, influenced your work?”

“No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk and then work, [Ingmar Bergman] would say, because the demons hate it when you get out of bed, demons hate fresh air.”

It’s safe to assume that when he said this, he mostly meant it in the context of not having your hands tied by your creative demons, but rather to just get up, and go to your work. But it’s natural to associate it with distractions too.

When you give in to your distractions on a daily basis, you do actually feel bad about it but don’t say or do much to stop it because doing anything about it would acknowledge its presence, and that would feel like defeat.

So, instead, you just keep these distractions hidden, and act like it’s something that you’re only doing today, and won’t repeat tomorrow.

And that’s exactly what the demons want.

But by exposing and accepting these distractions for what they are and shining a light on them, you can dissect them, find productive alternatives, and brush them aside much easily compared to before.

Why do Distracting Thoughts Arise At All?

Imagine you’re driving down the highway and you notice a billboard with a phone number you want to call. Obviously, if you were in the passenger seat, you’d just take out your phone, dial the number, and call it. But, in this situation, you’re in the driver’s seat and you can’t do that. So, what do you do? You keep repeating the number over and over again in your mind until you memorize it, and can call when you’re in an ideal situation to do so.

This is exactly what your mind is doing when it throws distracting thoughts at you while you’re working. In the fear that you’ll forget these random things, it tries to repeat them over and over again.

Oftentimes these distracting thoughts genuinely need your attention. If you’re in the flow and doing your best work, but you suddenly remember an unpaid bill or a presentation you need to prepare for, those thoughts do actually need your attention.

But, they certainly don’t need it right now.

By creating a distractions list, you can mitigate this by reassuring your mind that you have a system in place for remembering these important thoughts. It’s one of the best habits for productivity.

Creating a Distractions List

Here’s how to do it: whenever you start working on a task, keep a writing device next to you. Whenever a distracting thought, reminder, or to-do list task pops into your mind, just jot it down, and then refocus your attention on your task. When you’re done with your task, review the list you created. Either tackle all those thoughts (whether they be ideas, reminders, or pending tasks) right then and there, bump them to the next day, or add them to your long-term to-do list.

If one particular set of distractions is a common occurrence, you can make a list of them in a journal and keep a running tally of them. Whenever you’re working and a distraction comes across your radar (one that’s on your list), you can identify it and put a tally mark for that distraction.

In time, as you generate a lot of data, you can look back and make some necessary adjustments. Case in point, if you tend to reach for your phone to play a game while working, you can try to put it out of sight — in a drawer, cupboard, or another room.

After doing this for a while, your management of distractions will improve dramatically. You won’t give into them as easily and twitch to respond in a flash. You’ll know your demons, and they won’t be able to survive for long in the light of your awareness.

This was an edited excerpt from my book Plus Habits.

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