If you’re like most of us, you often pull out your phone to check the time (let’s be honest: watches are mostly a thing of the past) and end up unlocking the screen and firing off replies to newly discovered texts, emails, and social media notifications. Though brief, these little distractions pull you out of the present moment and steal your focus.
And not only is this a rude habit to get into, but since humans are actually awful at multitasking, it is also extremely inefficient to bounce your focus back and forth between a conversation and your mobile device.
I’ve found a simple trick to free myself from the urge to check on things when I really want to focus: I set an alarm before I begin a new task.
If the distraction arises from needing to be somewhere on time, I set an alarm for a few minutes before I will need to leave. That way, I can carry on my conversation or activity without any reason to look at the time, because the timer will let me know know when I need to wrap things up.
I also use this for quiet activities such as writing and studying. For these sorts of endeavors I want to be able to focus without checking the time on my phone or laptop (which would risk derailment). Setting an alarm is particularly effective in this context because it removes the temptation to use technology to procrastinate, thus decreasing the amount of willpower needed to stay on task. Yet another benefit lies in creating a steady workflow through rhythmic periods of working and taking breaks– and having a planned on/off cycle is less mentally taxing since it further decreases the necessity to self-regulate attention.
But my favorite use for this technique is simply for relaxation. Not only does setting yourself an alarm release you from checking the time you have remaining in an endeavor, but it creates a sense of timelessness. I use this method as a regular part of my recovery process between workouts for tranquil activities like baths (which can be taken either hot or iced), meditation, and power naps.
Freed from the anxiety of having to be anywhere or do anything, the time outside of time that meditation creates can be particularly restorative.
Go ahead and try a few of these “alarming” tactics for yourself– and please comment if you have your own to share!