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158. Five Strategies for Defeating Distractions

It’s Friday morning, and you promised your PI a draft of your paper before the weekend. The trouble is, you lost a lot of time this week to distractions.

Monday you had lab meeting and a few other planning sessions. Tuesday you worked from home but got sucked into cleaning the kitchen and folding laundry instead of writing.

You don’t remember why Thursday wasn’t more productive. You started out the day feeling anxious about the deadline, and then spend a few hours (hours?!) online shopping to numb the anxiety.

And here you are on Friday with less than 7 hours left until your deadline and your stress levels are maxed out. So why is it that your main desire is to watch videos on TikTok?

The Cost of Paying Attention

Social media companies are often described as the ‘attention economy’ – each site employing science and psychology to trick you into spending your time and attention online.

But that attention comes with a cost, especially if it’s distracting you from other meaningful work. If graduate students need to read papers, plan experiments, and publish in journals in order to graduate, then every moment spent on Twitter is a minute longer until your degree.

But social media companies aren’t the only culprits here – distractions come both from within and without.

Maybe a noisy open-lab layout draws your attention from your reading, or your phone buzzes regularly with notifications. These are external distractions.

But we can also get distracted by sensations and emotions – that gnawing hunger from missing breakfast, or your recurrent worry when finances get tight.

This week on the show, we unpack the who, what, and why of distractions, and share five strategies for getting them under control.

We base the discussion around Chris Smith’s article 5 Strategies for Writing in Turbulent Times published in the London School of Economics and Political Science Impact Blog. Though the author focuses on writing, the tips apply to any type of focused work you may need to complete.

For more time-management tips, check out these previous episodes:

154. How to Plan Your PhD w/ Hugh Kearns

015: Simple Tricks for Time Management: The Pomodoro Technique

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