They’re coming at you, pressing against your nerves, your sanity, the very bedrock of your existence.
Like Huns, Barbarians, or worse, door-to-door Bible thumpers. Battering down your defenses, kidnapping your kiddies and pillaging your lovely wife. Bang, bang, bang rampaging your gates. You look out, and there they are: your phone notifications.
A chirp, a bing, a whap, foghorn, an “ahuga” … your cellphone is doing its high school drama class interpretation of the legendary Mexican jumping bean. The sucker is practically dancing the Macarena on your desk.
“Dear lord,” you plead with one of your pagan deities, “please, not today. Not today! I have work to do… Anything but that…”
But, still, like that proverbial dog of Pavlovian fame, you sway forward. The siren call of a notification plucks you off the ground by the hair on your chinny-chin-chin. Lifted up, feet skimming soil, the look of a dullard clouding your ADD-sensory overloaded noggin’. Up against your flimsy rampart you go, not wanting to see; down that road lies doom and gloom. Still, your eyes, those traitorous knaves, work of their own accord. Just a peek, you tell yourself. One little, tiny, almost insignificant blink, then back to work. What harm will it do?
“What?!” Your eyes turn into giant fried eggs. A flimsy white bikini, a drop-dead body and an arm, not your own, sliding across a tight belly. “She didn’t look like that with me! And who’s that?”
Your day is hijacked by visions of your ex’s Cancun getaway. Tomorrow, perhaps, a stroll down Gordon Ramsay’s YouTube Channel. The day after, a fact-finding expedition on Hollywood’s fabled divorces. On Friday, a particular Troll calls you out. And so on and so on. Work piles up, doing bivouac constructions all over your office.
Well, it’s time to snap out of it! Plain and simple. There’s being laidback, then there’s LAIDBACK. If your cat - who, like all felines, looks permanently stoned - comes over and yells: “Get up, you deadbeat! Do something!” Then, by all means, you have crossed the line. Time to exorcise those digital demons. Time to go all Chuck Norris on that Pokémon Go free-for-all that has suddenly become the notorious Pikachu on your back. Away into the night Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and all your cousins. Tisk, tisk, tisk, on that deranged Candy-Crush obsession going all Linda Blair-like on your productivity; green vomit everywhere, head doing the twist and jive, scandalous accusations of your Mother’s Hollywood-Hill like exploits in Hell. It’s time, my friend, to get your s%@t together.
The Twelve Steps
Step One: Admit you are powerless; your Wi-Fi has you by the throat and your iPhone has a mean right hook.
Time to face up to the fact that, unfortunately, you have no self-control. You, like 90% of the population, have been smacked around by this digital age. It’s all out there, one swipe, pinch, toggle away. Procrastination is slowly but methodically being bred into our DNA. We have become cows; fed data, kept in check, happy with grazing the field so long as there’s a tweet by Selene Gomez keeping boredom away.
Step Two: Power greater than ourselves: Eat the Frog First.
In your sojourns in this topsy-turvy world, you’ll come to the realization that there is a power greater than ourselves. Nope, it’s not God, Krishna, Zeus, or Odin. No, none of those guys. I’m talking about Jobs, Da Vinci, Einstein, Rockefeller, Churchill, Gates, Patton, Twain, and Wilde. The go-getters. Most of them played big, but also did big. The one thing they could all agree on is this: EAT THE FROG FIRST.
As soon as you get up, do that one thing that completely sours your mood. That one activity that hangs over your head like a sword. If you don’t, you’ll often lose focus throughout the day. You’ll look at shiny things for hours just to keep that one horrible bastard on the sidelines.
Step Three: It’s a sprint, not a marathon.
Work in bursts of energy. Make a list of items you have to finish that day, and never try to tackle them all at once. If you try to fight it out with the group, you’ll find yourself bloody and mashed up; beaten to seven shades of “you know what.” Pick a lone wolf off your list and don’t let go off its leash until you’ve managed to tame it. It may take ten minutes or it may take an hour, but work like a madman on that singular project. After you bury that nasty sucker six-feet under, take the same amount of time to unwind. Rinse and repeat.
Step Four: Eliminate distractions.
Until you transform into a production-ninja, a task-guru, a job-oriented Svengali, you’ll have the attention span of a gerbil on meth. That’s just how it is, and you’ll have to learn to live with it. Thanks to all your gadgets, you’ve become that annoying kid in your school that drank Coke all day and vibrated in and out of this dimension during lunch time. As such, eliminate all distractions while working. You are an alcoholic, but instead of Jose Cuervo, you get your fix from your iPad.
Limit yourself to one window or application on your browser.
Turn off your cellphone.
Shred, destroy, annihilate your old tasks. Free up space by looking at what you already accomplished and what is just a load of BS.
Work someplace that’s akin to that hole they toss prisoners in when they’ve been acting up. You were caught with a shiv, and now it’s time for solitary.
Step Five: Zen your zone.
A wallet, a home, and an office can tell you a lot about a person. If your wallet has managed to realign your spine, your house looks like it needs a hoarder’s intervention, and your desk has become a biological microenvironment, then it’s time to go to your local 7-11. Get a pack of matches and a jug of gasoline and BBQ that mess. Start fresh and minimalistic. An uncluttered existence is a peaceful existence.
Step Six: Handle transitions.
Your whole day is filled with a series of tasks; be they kosher or soul crushing. You are jumping from one slippery stone to another. You wake up at the end of one muddy bank, a furious black river before you, and your goal is to get to the other side by nightfall. Or, if you’re a Frogger fan, you are that suicidal toad. Before you dash into the new intersection, or skip onto the other rock, take a moment to breath and get your head on straight. Family life, work life, playtime, downtime, personal time, they all work on different vibes. Take ten to twenty minutes before leaping into a new fray or playground; get your head in order and switch out gears.
Step Seven: Do like Bruce.
If you find that your mind is getting antsy and wants to skedaddle away, then by all means, accompany it. Like Springsteen, you were Born To Run. Take the Thunderoad but not to your cellphone. Go outside, to the Jungleland, perhaps down those Backstreets, or through the Streets Of Philadelphia. Have, because you can, a Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Sit on a bench an ponder the Incident At 57th Street. Think about your Home Town. But, overall, remember to stretch out your legs even if you find yourself by the River, rain falling down on your head Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.
Step Eight: Sweat like a superhero.
Thirty minutes to an hour’s worth of physical exertion can do wonders for your stress and anxiety, the two naughty ankle-bitters that play havoc with your concentration. High impact aerobic exercise beats these riff-raffs into submission. You’ll discover as you leave your body-fat on the curb that, along with all those fast-food belly deposits, you’ll also catch your cellphone in the rear-view.
Or, if running isn’t your thing, then pick-up a hobby that requires brawn instead of brains. It’s a swell time to learn how to play the guitar.
Step Nine: Stimulate yourself.
Mind out of the gutter! What I mean to say is try to make boring tasks interesting. Studies show that a steady level of just-right stimulation is critical for attention. Too low stimulation means a task is boring. Too high stimulation signifies stress or anxiety.
Play some downbeat, relaxing, dare I say, “elevator music.”
Buy a bag of candy and reward yourself every time you finish a task.
Take a long lunch break.
Talk to your co-workers once an hour.
The key is to find your “zone.” Stimulation is a tricky concept; it boosts your attention but only to a certain point. Once it reaches its zenith, it becomes counterproductive. You start, for example, to play a mean air-guitar solo in your cubicle, disregarding all those slips you have to input on Excel.
Step Ten: Self-talk.
Get those imaginary pom-poms and cheer yourself to the finish line. Studies have shown—cause somehow, they always do—that whenever you find yourself wavering, whenever you think you won’t make it, the best thing to do is to act like a loon and start talking to yourself. Be your own coach. Repeat after me:
“What do I need to do now?”
“Stay with it; stay with it; stay with it.”
“You’re almost there.”
“You filthy maggot! You disgust me! Put down the phone!”
Step Eleven: Tell everybody about your opening night.
Here’s a trick: If everybody knows you went out to do something there’s a greater chance that you’ll accomplish it. If you’ve created an expectation, then odds are you’ll fulfill it. There is nothing worse than looking like a loser in front of your family and friends. So, next time you’re trying to check anything off your bucket list, tell someone you’re close to about it. It will generate a sense of accountability.
Step Twelve: Keep two to-do lists.
The first list is sort of like a diary of thought; write down whatever pops into your brain. Scribble absolutely every distracting impulse that sizzles a neuron. “Check Facebook”; “Tweet this and that”; “Email friend from high school”; “Pick up laundry.” This huge tally will help you keep your mind tidy. You’ll no longer feel the need to do everything on the double because you might forget. Write the thoughts down and come back to them after your work.
The second list is the important one. This one, this paramount catalogue, should include three items at the most. Those critical pieces that are fundamental for obtaining a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Set three big goals for the day and congratulate yourself when you crush them.