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Stay present and get more done: distractibility delay explained

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

Do you find your attention slipping away when you need it most?


Are the little things constantly getting in the way of your big goals?


Ever had that 'aha' moment during a busy day, only for it to vanish into thin air?


In this article, I am going to teach you a powerful tool called distractibility delay.


For working adults, this tool will improve your focus, streamline your productivity, relieve stress, and ensure you do not forget to do important to-dos that pop into your mind when you are busy.


Who benefits from using distractibility delay?

In 5th grade, I underwent an extensive psychological assessment to determine why I was struggling in school.


My parents and teachers commented on how kind and polite I was but also were concerned. As I reread the assessment, I noticed phrases like, “always has his head in the clouds” and “often appears to be listening but does not understand verbal directions”.


At the end of the assessment, the psychologist wrote, “High likelihood of ADHD”.


To this day, my friends, fiancé, and family will tell you that I often appear to be listening but actually have no clue what was said to me.


A few years ago, a psychiatrist taught me how to use distractibility delay to manage my wandering mind.


It has had an incredible effect on my productivity, organization, and stress levels. I have shared this technique with clients and they too have found it very helpful.


What is distractibility delay?

Throughout our busy days, many important to-dos, creative ideas, or interesting topics we want to learn more about pop into our minds.


Distractibility delay is a valuable technique designed to enhance focus, streamline productivity, and reduce stress.


It involves creating a designated "parking lot" for stray thoughts and tasks that pop into your mind during work or other activities. By writing these thoughts down and setting them aside temporarily, you can stay on track with your current task without the fear of forgetting important ideas.



What are the benefits of using distractibility delay?


Improved Focus

By offloading distractions to the parking lot, you can maintain better concentration on your primary tasks, increasing your overall productivity.


Stress Reduction

Knowing that you won't forget important thoughts or to-dos provides peace of mind.


“Unfinished tasks create mental tension, which impacts how well people perform other tasks in the meantime.”

Here's the great news: distractibility delay will reduce anxiety and stress associated with forgetting critical tasks.


Task Organization

The parking lot becomes a repository for your ideas and tasks, allowing you to prioritize and address them at more appropriate times, improving overall task management.


Enhanced Presence

In social situations or meetings, this technique helps you stay engaged without being preoccupied with stray thoughts, ensuring you're actively present and attentive.



How do I use distractibility delay?


The Setup

First, get a blank notebook.


We want to avoid notebooks being used for other purposes, as that might be distracting. If you are a tech lover, create a blank Google Doc or use a notetaking app.


Next, place the notebook and a pen or pencil in your workspace. Do not remove the notebook from your workspace. It now lives there. Title the top of the page “parking lot”.


If you are using technology, bookmark the doc or note, title it as “parking lot”, and open the tab. Keep the tab open at all times.


Practice

Set a timer for the amount of time that you need to do focused work. I like to start small. Try 30 minutes.


During the work block, when a thought pops into your mind, pause, write it down in your “parking lot”, and return to the task at hand. You should not take action on this thought. This leads us to more efficient time management as we will avoid wasting time on unnecessary tasks. According to Zippia,


“The average worker spends 51% of every workday on low to no-value tasks.”

When the timer goes off, look at your “parking lot” and determine if any of the items need to be handled at this time.


I often realize there are items that I need to put on my calendar for later in the week or on my to-do list for later in the day. I add those items to the list they belong on and then begin my next work block.


More often than not, I realize some of the thoughts in my parking lot are not necessary to-dos. If that is the case, I cross them out.


When you are done with the day, review your parking lot one more time, determine how to handle each item, and then throw away the piece of paper or delete everything from the doc. You do not want to end up with multiple lists.


What's your biggest productivity challenge?

  • Procrastination

  • Distractions

  • Motivation

  • Time management


When should I use distractibility delay?

This tool can be implemented throughout your day! You can use it when doing focused work either at the office or when working from home.


You can also use distractibility delay when they are in meetings. When there is a break in conversation or at the end of the meeting, you can bring up important items that you wrote down.


When you are spending intentional time with friends or family this tool comes in handy too. It helps you stay present.


I use my reminders app when I am out with friends or at the dinner table. When I remember something I have to do, or if someone brings up an event or topic I need to handle, I set a reminder with a specific time.


This allows me to remember to do the thing while also staying present in the moment.


What if I still feel an urge to do “the thing”?

When you add something to your parking lot, you are offloading it from your working memory. However, sometimes, you will feel an urge to still attend to the thought.


Self-talk is key. Develop positive coping statements that you can tell yourself. For example:


“I will have time to do this later”


“This is not an urgent task right now”


Conclusion

The distractibility delay technique offers a powerful solution to enhance focus, productivity, and stress management. Creating a dedicated "parking lot" for stray thoughts and ideas helps you stay on track during work, stay present in social situations, and effectively organize thoughts in meetings.


This simple strategy prevents valuable ideas from getting lost and reduces stress. Give it a try to improve concentration and efficiency, making your daily tasks and thoughts more manageable and less overwhelming.


Stay Engaged


About the author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the Co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.




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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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