The “Distractions List” Method That Has Kicked My Procrastination Habit

published Mar 30, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

I’m a master procrastinator. I’m so good at it that I’ll procrastinate by reading articles about how to not procrastinate. Usually, these articles are filled with common-sense items like keeping a planner and setting regular work hours, which have never worked for me. But once, in a particularly bad fit of procrastination, I came across something called the “distractions list” method. I thought it was ingenious and immediately began using it — and it has almost doubled my productivity.

What Is the Distractions List Method?

A distractions list is essentially another kind of to-do list, but one that keeps you focused on what you’re already doing. With this method, you make a list of all the things that distract you as you’re working on a project. Write them down at the moment they enter your mind. That will get the nagging idea out of your head and onto a piece of paper so it won’t get in the way of finishing your work. When you take a break, you can review the distractions list to see if there’s anything you need to do right away or if you can just remove it from the list after all.

The distractions list trick works particularly well with the Pomodoro Technique, where you work in 25-minute increments and take five-minute breaks in between. During the breaks, I’m often able to knock a bunch of little things off the list.

Credit: Jennifer Billock

How a Distractions List Helps Me

My distractions list has been a massive boon to my productivity. Before, when something would distract me, I would stop what I was doing to quickly take care of that new to-do. Now it gets set aside until I’m ready. I don’t have to worry about forgetting the thing I’m supposed to do by the time I’m done working, or taking time away from work to do it.

I exclusively use my distractions list while I’m working from home, which is kind of funny, because the list tends to fill up with things I need to do around the house. Maybe I need to start a load of laundry or clean off the table — I jot them down and move on. I also include some larger, outside-the-home items, like making a doctor’s appointment or mailing a package. Any task that happens to distract me while I’m working goes on the list.

During my breaks from work when I’m using the Pomodoro Technique, I tackle some things on the distractions list. If anything is left over at the end of the workday, I either do them right away or save nonessential items until the next day, and add them to the list while I’m working again. At the end of the week, I try to cross every remaining task off the list.

My distractions list is the only thing that’s ever actually helped with my procrastination habit. It keeps me on track because I’m getting the thought out of my brain, and it also helps me feel calmer and more organized because I’m not thinking about a million things all at once. Instead, I’m tracking them and allowing myself to get back to the task at hand. It’s a kind of meditation. With meditation, you embrace drifting thoughts and then refocus on your breath. With the distractions list, you write down drifting thoughts and then refocus on your work. Give it a try. You won’t regret it.