It’s been a minute since I watched a newscast or scrolled through the headlines on news sites. That’s been intentional on my part because I used to spend an inordinate amount of time checking headlines in an obsessive way. That ‘obsession’ intruded when I wrote or read, when I was baking or cooking, or when I was in transit to and from work. It had me constantly—despite my intention or will—reaching for my phone. To get back to what mattered, and stay focused, cutting out the noise was the only option.
Staying Focused in a Distracted World
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been focused on better managing the distractions in my life. As I mentioned in my first post of the new year, I’m not picking up my phone during the first hour of the day. This has been an incredibly powerful strategy to keep me focused. It is when, without distractions—without even being tempted by them—I settle in to write my Morning Pages and read. It’s that first act of the day the gives me energy and momentum to do the hard things first.
One thing that has really helped me over the years is solitude or stillness. For me, it is the act of cutting out the noise. I used to write or read with music (with lyrics) playing in the background. First, I transitioned to classical music and then the sound of rain. Then nothing. And that was when I noticed an increase in the intensity of my concentration. And my productivity soared. It’s how I work for the most part, although some days I slip up and think I can still accomplish the same level of work with noise in the background. No, I can’t.
Running in Silence
A few years ago, and before cutting out the noise while writing or reading, I tried running without music. It was something I challenged myself to do after reading Jesse Itzler’s Living with the Monks: What Turning Off My Phone Taught Me about Happiness, Gratitude, and Focus. I was nervous about running without music. Could I make it through the long runs in silence? Would running suddenly become boring?
Surprisingly, that first run without music wasn’t hard. In fact, the silence let me hear myself think. It gave me the time and space to figure out a problem I had to solve, to pay attention to my breathing and gait…to be present in the run.
Cutting Out the Noise
As much as possible, I embrace solitude. Not just when I’m writing or running, but in all areas of life. I can’t stay too long in crowded and rowdy places. Loud voices perturb me. Whenever I can, I wear noise-cancelling headphones. Because cutting out the noise lets me hear myself think and, by extension, keeps me focused on what matters.