I’m working on a deadline (or was working) and I find myself on an irrelevant website making a decision that I don’t need to be making right now because I got distracted by looking at my email.

How many of you can relate to this scenario?

Today, we are constantly bombarded with distractions. Our phone chimes and we race to pick it up and check it. Then we get caught up in the notifications. Maybe it’s the news or a YouTube video or responding to someone else’s plan.

A favorite is that I’ll go to my phone to look up something relevant to the task at hand and get distracted by a notification and then forget why I had picked up my phone in the first place. It’s the modern-day version of walking out to the garage for something and then forgetting what we were after.

Distractions are an obstacle to getting work done.

In the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport explains how people who can develop the skill of deep work—the ability to focus on a task for an extended period—will be rewarded for it by creating results. Deep work requires brainpower; it’s a decreasing skill in our distracted world.

Here are a few ninja tips to overcome distractions:

  1. Create a list of specific and clear tasks for the next day as you are wrapping up work. Stick to under 10 each day. This will reduce your cognitive load, the amount of brainpower you use. When you sit at your desk the next morning, you don’t have to think about what to do. Your list of high-leverage actions that are aligned with your goal are right in front of you.
  2. Schedule a time when you can focus for 90 minutes without distractions. The time of day when you are most productive, work on your hardest tasks first. 
  3. Turn off your phone and Wi-Fi or computer notifications. Close your office door and put a Do Not Disturb sign on the outside. I know people who get up an extra two to three hours earlier and go to a coffee shop or work at home to get that concentrated time to work on special projects without distractions.

Another obstacle is negative self-talk from limiting beliefs and irrational fears that come from doing work that is outside your comfort zone.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like I am divided in my thinking, one side wanting to change and the other berating myself and telling me I can’t because . . .

I loved reading this quote in the book by Richard O’Connor, Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, and Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior:

“It seems as if we have two brains, one wanting the best for us, and the other digging in its heels in a desperate, often unconscious, effort to hold on to the status quo.”

Our brains will follow the path of least resistance and fall into doing low-risk, low-priority tasks rather than focusing on the high-priority tasks that matter and consequently are risky. These higher-priority tasks require us to overcome the internal fears that might be popping up and getting in our way.

When you notice yourself gravitating toward those low-priority, low-risk tasks, hit your internal pause button, take three deep resilience breaths, and ask yourself, “What am I thinking and feeling?” What is the No. 1 task or action step you can do right now that would matter most in achieving your goal? Do it now! Taking action moves the energy.

Talking yourself out of a goal or taking action is another common stumbling block.

This common obstacle is akin to getting to the top of the diving board and then having second thoughts. It looked so fun at first, but now you are plagued with doubts. “Is this a good idea?” “What if I can’t do it?” “What if I get hurt?” You end up paralyzed in fear or doubting yourself. You try to talk yourself out of doing this risky activity. “Why did I even think this was going to be fun?” Then, “This isn’t even a good idea.” And you begin the process of identifying why this idea isn’t going to work. Pretty soon it’s in the trash bin along with all the other amazing ideas you talked yourself out of . . .

The tricky thing about talking yourself out of taking action is that it seems so reasonable and logical when you are doing it.

I had a client who scheduled a dream vacation with family. As the date approached, obstacles started to come up. She needed a root canal. (It was scheduled for after her return.) But what if it got worse and she had to go to a dentist there or . . . Her mom had a health issue. She shouldn’t be so far away from her parents. What if their health got worse? She decided she didn’t like flying by herself . . . You get the picture.

At the time, these obstacles seemed rational and logical reasons to cancel and miss the “dream” vacation. (Actually, by then the dream vacation was downgraded to just some silly trip.)

Her mind was getting hijacked by her fear. It was driving her decision-making. (Ninja tip: Decisions made from fear are not in your best interest no matter how much your brain tries to convince you they are.)

The good news is that she reached out to me for support and I was able to hold her hand as she walked through her fear. I was fighting and standing up for her, her capabilities, and her dreams when she could not. (One of my superpowers, just saying.)

She stayed the course and got on the plane. The result—the vacation of a lifetime with her family. The experiences, memories, and connection with family were priceless. To say she was glad she went is an understatement.

In retrospect, she realized that “she had a tsunami of resistance and it was all based in fear.” The other insight she had was the bigger her resistance and fear, the bigger the reward for staying the course.

Ninja tip: Follow your plan. Do it even if you’re feeling afraid. Stay the course. Reach out for support when you find yourself talking yourself out of your good ideas.

“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will. ”

—W. Clement Stone