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Try eliminating some daily 'noise' in the new year

Now that the holidays have come and gone, and most of us are back to work and school, the focus is now sharply on the daily grind that is 2020.

If you’d still like to resolve to do something different this year but haven’t decided yet, here’s an idea from author Joe McCormack: Start reclaiming your time and attention by pushing for a less “noisy” life.

Digital disruptions, random distractions and constant connectivity could be slaying the ability to really focus, he contends. “Slowly and without realizing it, we’ve become slaves to emails, celebrity gossip and endless social media alerts,” says McCormack, the author of “Noise: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus.” He says, “digital distractions take us out of the moment, make us miss life’s nuances and rob us of our potential.”

The consequences are real, he says. We tune out our kids (and they develop the same bad habits). We half-listen to our partners. We go through the motions at the office, missing the cues that lead to smart decisions and failing to do the “deep work” that leads to real success.

McCormack says we need to aim toward richer, more rewarding, more intentional lives. We just need to be aware of what we’re doing and make some small, yet surprisingly high-impact changes around our relationship with technology.

Here are some of the quieting tactics he suggests:

• Set a few reachable “North Star” goals. Think about some attainable goals you would like to achieve in the following year. They could be relatively simple to achieve, like going to bed by 10 each night, working out four days a week, or going on a day trip with your kids at least two weekends each month. Or they might be more ambitious, like writing a book, getting a big promotion or changing careers. Write it down and then make a public pact with a friend or family member so you can stay accountable.

• Try going a week without using social media. Even better, give it two weeks. This may be tougher than you think, because checking Facebook is a powerful addiction. But don’t substitute TV for that. Do something productive, relaxing or meaningful instead. Clean out a closet, go for a walk, or maybe write a letter to that great-aunt you’ve been neglecting.

• Set boundaries around work check-ins. According to research from McCormack’s firm, The Brief Lab, some professionals check their phones 150 times a day and check their email 36 times an hour. That’s bad enough during the workday, but for many people the vigilance continues after business hours. To curb constant email checking, he suggests, draw a hard line around your phone and computer use and don’t cross it.

• Use five-minute bursts of focus to stop procrastinating and start getting things done. Here’s how: Block off segments of time to completely focus on and tackle one particular task throughout the day, starting and stopping on time. If you need more time, add another five minutes.

• Nurture your relationships through what McCormack calls “present listening.” That means you are in the moment, not racing ahead or looking back. It also means you’re giving your listening as a gift to the other person while expecting nothing in return. Be interested, ask questions, and remember that it’s not about you.

• Plan for unplugged weekends. It’s all too easy to waste weekends zoned out in front of the computer or the TV. McCormack says at least two weekends out of the month should contain scheduled activities and events that will get you away from your devices and help you engage in the present.

• Commit to “deviceless” dinners. The dinner hour can be a rare and sacred time for families. Make a family pact to put down your phones, totally disconnect, and enjoy each other’s company while you share a meal together. Take turns talking about your day and really connect with each other.

• Every week, get rid of something that isn’t working for you. Find an item you don’t use and don’t need and donate it. Clutter is its own form of noise, McCormack insists. Plus, this practice helps you get used to thinking about what’s essential in your daily life and focusing intently on it.

• Focus on getting brief in your workplace communication. Brevity has flown the coop in this age of endless emails and too many meetings. But you can learn to streamline your thoughts so you are more easily understood — and possibly less exhausting to your colleagues.

So if you have a mind to slow things down and filter out the noise, follow some or all of McCormack’s suggestion and see what happens.

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