The distraction pad: notepad, pen and willpower.

Quick Tip: The Distraction Pad

Hey all,

I love to experiment day-to-day with aspects of my life – An example of this is after writing about the TED talk “try something new for 30 days“, I ended up journaling every day for 30 days and learning more about myself.

This micro experiment has come as a result of a new semester at university and the desire to be more present and hold focus longer. As a student, In lectures I find it so easy to switch off, writing notes can help but distracting thoughts are bound to come up. In the past I’ve found myself suddenly on my phone looking up some idea, shopping or just checking Facebook!

The Concept:

Make a Distraction Pad

You will need:

– Notepad (ideally reporter style)

– Pen

– Willpower

The Distraction Pad

How to use it:

It’s laughably simple, yet works so well – instead of having a phone out in lectures pop your distraction pad primed next to you on the desk ready for those distractions. Focus on the lecture as usual but as soon as the slightest off-topic thought creeps in, write it down on a new line of the pad. As soon as you’ve written it down reframe and get back to the lecture, don’t think too much about this as you want it to become second nature. In addition you want to increase the activation energy it takes for you to get on your phone or tablet, so unless it is paramount to taking notes, keep it in your bag.

Over a single lecture I came up with 10 distracting things, stuff as simple as “I’d like to play some guitar later”, “DO LAUNDRY” (mundane I know) or “Post picture to Instagram”.

All the distracting thoughts we have on a day-to-day basis can lead us to lose or break focus on what we are doing. Getting back on task is hard, it takes “an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task” after being disrupted. This stat relates more to personal study / office based jobs and comes as a massive warning. As you can tell the notebook can also apply to a study / work scenario – For example instead of seeing a new email come into your inbox and instantly clicking over to see what it’s about, just jot it down to the pad.

One key to working smarter in lieu of what distraction can do to our focus, is to change the way we use notifications.

Smart notifications – when you are in the zone and focused on working, the last thing you want is a notification coming in and grabbing your attention. Do not disturb mode is a God send, turn it on while working and check your phone after.

Later on in your day, when you have some free time review your distraction pad, deal with them then strike them off your list. One bonus of this method is that you can start to see trends in what is distracting you, which can help change the way you structure your work.

Time to time it helps to make a brain dump to clear your head. Take 10 minutes out, grab a piece of paper and write down everything you’ve got to do over the next coming weeks. This is especially effective if you are ever feeling in a particularly distracted mood. By doing a brain dump it formalises what you’ve got to do, making it more tangible and taking the strain off your brain.

I’ve only been doing this a week but can already notice the benefits it carries in terms of boosting productivity, concentration and my new-found ability for avoiding distraction. So this week give it a go, grab a notebook and fight back against those pesky distractions!



Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

11/02/2015 at 12:03 pm

Came from reddit. I really like this idea! MAY try it out sometime in the future (procrastinator talking here :P)

Matthew Spearreply
14/02/2015 at 1:12 pm
– In reply to: Kimberley

Same, I am a massive procrastinator – would love to hear how you’ve got on!?

Antonio D’Onofrioreply
19/04/2015 at 6:52 pm

I have done this for years, even if without enough assiduity.
I use this system during lectures and hours to the library and very often I stumble upon a lot of mundane things and stupid stuff, but even with very cool ideas

The fact I was wandering about is that: how do you collect the informations you get, at the end of the day?

Matthew Spearreply
25/04/2015 at 6:16 pm
– In reply to: Antonio D'Onofrio

So at the end of the day if I’ve needed to use the pad I sit down, process through and cross off stuff from the list.

If the task is something simple that I can do in less than 5 min, I’ll attempt to do it there and then.

If the task is longer I put it into OmniFocus (task manager app) and set when I will start it, project, context etc

Anymore questions feel free to ask – did that answer your question?

Antonio D’Onofrioreply
29/04/2015 at 11:02 am
– In reply to: Matthew Spear

Thanks for the answer. I am not a Omnifocus kind of person, but I guess I can manage to have a different system, based on pen and paper.
As a student, I prefer to be analogical in as much way as possible (taking notes, collecting ideas, study books etc.)

Matthew Spearreply
29/04/2015 at 4:04 pm
– In reply to: Antonio D'Onofrio

Yeah OmniFocus can be scary complicated, the key thing is that you are recording down stuff you need to do, instead of trying to remember everything.

In terms of paper systems it might be worth checking out either the Bullet Journal ( or the Dash-Plus system (

Leave a reply