Each of us is bestowed with a finite reserve of willpower, a reserve that replenishes roughly once a day. How are you spending yours?
We face a mind boggling number of decisions and distractions, all fighting viciously for a piece of that willpower and mental energy. It’s best to find some allies in this battle who can help you fight back. I’ve searched high and low for tools and tricks to make the path of least resistance coincide with the path of most impact.
Below are 5 of my favorite finds. These are some of the most helpful tools and their specific implementation that I’ve used to reclaim my willpower and mental focus, so I can get the important things done each day and rest easy at night. It’s important to understand why you’re working to grow, and it’s helpful to know what to work on. But sometimes you gotta start with the how piece, specific actionable tips you can put in place right away to get traction.
Top hack: turn the internet ALL THE WAY OFF an hour before your bedtime (you have a set bedtime, right? More on that later)
For $29 a year, Freedom is a steal (I hope they’re not reading this). If there was only one thing I could use it for, it would be to turn the internet off at night. Like, completely off, on all my devices. If you’ve got social media and distracting apps on your phone, turn those off too.
The quiet that descends at 9pm each night is liberating. I feel my body settle a notch or two, and I become more aware of myself and my surroundings.
In that stillness — reading, winding down, and self care routines come effortlessly. In another post I’ll get into the myriad ways I use the magic of Freedom to conserve willpower, but this is the absolute first thing I’d recommend you use it for. Everybody says “don’t look at a screen before bed.” But at the end of the day you’re totally out of willpower. Let technology do the work here, let technology manage itself for your benefit.
2. AdBlock Plus
Top hack: use it to hide The Doors of Distraction.
Scattered across the internet, especially in the places we go often, are “The Doors of Distraction.” Entrances to time wasting, mindless, endless vortexes.
Unfathomable amounts of money are spent to make those doors alluring, and the hallways they lead to easy to get lost in. So we fight back by using AdBlock Plus to hide those doors. I find that hiding the doors altogether is more effective than putting big complicated locks on them.
A big complicated lock calls for an angle grinder and a crowbar, but a hidden door isn’t even there at all. Save yourself the heartache and hide distractions rather than resisting them.
Save that willpower for more important things!
I’ve written a detailed guide for how to use AdBlock Plus to have a healthier relationship with YouTube, the steps are much the same for all the other big distraction filled sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Top hack: Just use it to store your passwords. This is such a bigger deal than you think.
This is not new advice, but it is good advice. If you don’t already have a password manager, it’s time to get one. The amount of time and mental energy wasted resetting passwords and racking your brain trying to remember them isn’t worth it.
Not to mention the risk of a compromised account because you used the same password for everything…
After a few years with LastPass, I don’t know how I ever went it alone. Using your brain to remember login details is a needless drain on your energy, let your computer do it for you.
Oh, and pay someone to do it well, this is not the place to scrimp.
Wouldn’t think of it hack: use it to time everything, not just your deep work Pomodoro sessions. Set a timer when you’re “just gonna check Instagram for a minute.” Set a timer when you’re taking a break. Set a timer when you check email. Time everything. And when the timer rings, make a habit of getting back to the important things.
Leaving a timer running is like the safety line that cave divers use. You always have a route back to the surface, so if you get sucked down the rabbit hole, there will be a little tug pulling you back to safety at a predetermined time.
If you’re not familiar with the Pomodoro method, you can check out one of the many great tutorials and explanations elsewhere on the internet, but the simple version is:
Pick a task to focus on
Set a timer for 25 minutes
Work on your chosen task without interruption until the time is up
Take a 5 minute break, using a timer!
Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break
If you’re just getting started and you really struggle with distraction, try a 10 minute focused work period instead of 25. This will help you build your distress tolerance gradually, without getting wrecked by anxiety.
I’ve had clients who had the best results starting with 5 minutes, since the pull of distractions was just so intense. Remind yourself “it’s just 5 minutes, I can respond to emails/slack/etc. when I’m done.”
I prefer tomato-timer.com because it is so dang basic. No sign-up, no BS. Just a timer with three preset durations and a bog standard user interface. Focus on doing the work, let the tools you use be secondary.
5. Move your phone charger to the kitchen
Use it for: Well, charging your phone at night.
Okay, technically this isn’t so much a tool as a trick, but it’s still incredibly useful. You’ve probably heard the recommendation to put your phone on the other side of the room a hundred times, but that might not have really helped. Moving the charger to the kitchen on the other hand, might be the added boost you need to make this tip really stick, and launch your morning routine. That’s what it took for me at least. So go for it, move the charger right now, it’ll take you 30 seconds.
No, seriously, I’ll wait.
This way when you’re getting ready for bed tonight and you’re totally out of willpower, it’ll be easy to leave the phone out of the bedroom, since the charger is already there. Even better, when the internet turns off an hour before bed, plug your phone in then.
A nice little way to hide The Doors of Distraction on the new tab page. Momentum is a Chrome plugin that shows you an inspirational quote and beautiful picture every time you open a new tab. Hey, I’m a sucker for beauty.