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List of Principles

To create an environment free of distraction, all you have to do, of course, is find everything distracting in your environment and remove it. So, although I've formulated this essay as a list of principles, you can equally well think of it as a list of distractions you might consider removing.

What does it mean for something to be a distraction? The Latin derivation is instructive: “distraction” is made up of the prefix “dis-”, meaning “away”, plus the verb “traho”, “I pull” or “I drag”. (Incidentally, the corresponding subjective noun is “tractor”.) Thus, a distraction is something that drags away … specifically, something that drags your attention away from where it was before.

To pull your attention away, a distraction has to make you aware of it, i.e., interrupt you using one of your senses. Some senses, though, are more troublesome than others. Just for example, suppose you're sitting in front of a computer, writing an essay. In this situation, touch and taste are hardly even in play. I can imagine being distracted by smell, but it rarely happens; the big offenders, then, are sight and hearing.

Here I'll restrict myself to talking about visual distraction; mostly, in fact, to a specific kind of visual distraction, distraction by words. I don't know if I speak for everyone, but for me reading isn't even a voluntary activity any more—if my eyes are focused on words, the associated concepts appear in my mind whether I want them to or not. I find this far more distracting than looking at almost anything else. It's worse if the words are short, in large print, or in bright colors … not coincidentally, the kind of words used in advertising. If I wrote, say, the word “beer” (or, worse, “BEER”) on my wall, every time I looked at it I'd be reminded of beer, and if my train of thought were fragile, it might be completely disrupted.

Finally, after all that preamble, here's the disappointingly short list.

  • No posters with words. In practice, I tend to keep my walls bare, but that's just me and my monastic inclinations.
  • No clothes with words, whether brand names or slogans. This principle doesn't really make sense, since I don't normally look at my own clothes, but I apply it anyway, out of habit. I suppose it could be construed as a courtesy to others.
  • No books or magazines with words. (I'm talking about the words on the covers, of course.) The ones on books don't bother me so much, because usually they're small enough to ignore, but the ones on magazines are more troublesome.

    A few days ago, for example, I received a magazine that kept distracting me. I tried turning it over, but the advertisement on the back was equally distracting. Then I was just frustrated, until what I suppose is a mutation of my favorite method of avoiding spoilers led me to cover the entire stack of magazines with a piece of cardboard.

  • No television. I like watching TV as much as anyone (well, almost anyone) but it really is a huge distraction when it's on … one of the reasons you should consider the concept Kill Your Television.With television, of course, words aren't the main problem … it's just raw visual distraction, plus there's sound as well.

* * *

OK, here's one more.

  • No home pages in browsers. You can set them to start with blank pages, you know! The home pages most people use are about the most distracting things possible, half news and half ads, with plenty of videos and animations.

    Wikipedia doesn't have ads, fortunately, but I still find the main page a bit distracting. But guess what I discovered just now? An alternate entry point, a clean search page!


  See Also

  Environment Free of Distraction
  Separation Effect, The
  What Is Best?

@ June (2000)
o July (2013)