Banish Distractions and Achieve Your Goals in 3 Easy Steps

When I use this simple tool, I banish distractions. You can, too.

Banish Distractions and Achieve Your Goals.
 Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

Have you ever had one of those days you really needed to banish distractions? Yesterday morning, at 4:00 AM, my husband got out of bed and howled in pain. He could not put any weight on his foot. Pain radiated up his leg. Neither of us had slept much during the night, and now it was over. Obviously my long ‘to-do’ list wasn’t going to get ‘ta-done’.

We spent the next 4 hours in the ER. While I sat in the car waiting due to COVID protocols, he was iced, x-rayed, ultrasound-ed, and pumped full of morphine and another powerful painkiller that didn’t seem to help much. Thankfully, his condition turned out to be non-life threatening.

Has this ever happened to you? Sometimes life’s interruptions high-jack your day. You spin your wheels, busy, busy, busy, but nothing gets done. Your blood pressure rises, your anxiety spins out of control, and you can’t concentrate long enough to finish simple tasks let alone meet your goals. 

This type of negative stress gives you hypertension, anxiety and depression. The stress you have when you aren’t making progress towards your goals is defeating. But there is positive stress that helps you meet your goals. How can you tap into that when life blows you off course?

As a teacher, I was constantly stressed trying to juggle my responsibilities in the classroom with those at home. I had difficulty concentrating and getting things done. Worse, my family felt like orphans during the school year. Something had to give.

My stress almost disappeared when I stumbled across a simple tool that another teacher used.

I banished distractions. It was magical.

And, it was analog. A simple spreadsheet that listed my whole week and helped me set goals for each day was exactly what I needed. I tweaked the original spreadsheet until I had one that worked perfectly for me. When I went home at night, my family had my undivided attention.

Before I retired from teaching, I worked with students who had difficulty with focus and time management. They forgot assignments, missed deadlines, and genuinely couldn’t understand how other students could do so much with ease. Their frustration level was high and confidence low. 

Most solutions were too complex or took too long to manage. So I taught my students how to use my spreadsheet. They only had to keep up with their simple weekly plan sheet.

Keeping it simple, for all of us, made it do-able and sustainable. Making it analog minimized distractions.

How it works to banish distractions

This spreadsheet allows me to keep my ‘To-Do’ list right in front of me in one place. It also shows me any meetings, phone calls, or appointment times I have each day. There is a place for me to make important notes or jot observations.

This is all done by hand because research shows that writing something down helps you remember it better. The more often you write something, the more likely it gets into your brain. If you have it written down, you’re less likely to forget it. So…don’t shy away from this low-tech solution.

Then there is the satisfaction of getting to cross off the things you have finished. Crossing items off their lists allowed my students to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. It gave them a sense of accomplishment.

Step 1 — Set Your Goals

At the beginning of the week, I take 10 minutes to look at my monthly calendar where I have written all my appointments and deadlines for the month. I write down any appointment or meeting times listed on my spreadsheet next to the days when each occurs in the current week. 

My 3:00 Zoom call on Wednesday, gets listed next to Wednesday on the spreadsheet. Soccer practice on Friday at 6:00 gets written next to Friday. Each appointment or meeting should be listed in the order they occur with the time noted.

On a separate sheet of paper, I keep a list of goals and tasks I want or need to accomplish. This includes long and short term goals for both for work and home. I decide which ones I will focus on this week and which day I will work on each goal. 

I write my tasks/goals in the ‘To-Do’ column next to the day I plan to accomplish each task. If I have recurring goals or ‘To-Dos’, I type them into my master spreadsheet to save time each week. I make a duplicate of the master sheet and label it with the current week’s dates. 

I make sure that the days and times of all my meetings and my on-going goals are still correct. If anything has changed, I move or delete it before printing my weekly plan sheet. Then I keep it, and my monthly calendar with me at all times.

Step 2 — Refresh daily to banish distractions

Before you begin each day, look at your weekly plan sheet. Do you have anything else that you need to do that day? Pick up prescriptions, get milk, make a phone call? Add it to your ‘To-Do’ list.

This takes less than five minutes, but it gets you started on the right track at the beginning of your day. When life’s interruptions cause you to lose focus, take a minute to refresh and refocus on the tasks that you need to get done.

My personal weekly plan sheet helps steer me back to my charted course.
Photo by Patricia J. Davis

When you get distracted, having something physical to look at anchors you to your goals. Use it as your compass to steer you back on track and resume your charted course. Reflect on why you are distracted. Are you bored with a task? Do you need to come back to it after a short break? Do you have a meeting or deadline?

If you have a meeting in 10 minutes, pick a task you can finish quickly. If you have been slaving away at something that is difficult or boring (cough, cough — housework), pick something you want and like to do. The important thing is to use your weekly plan to meet the goals you set for yourself.

Don’t forget to cross off the goals you complete and give yourself a pat on the back.

Step 3 — Reflect, Revel and Reset

At the end of each day, take five minutes to review your plan for the day. Make notes about what you did that wasn’t on your ‘To-Do’ list. Did you have interruptions or discover something interesting to research?

Take the time now to cross off ‘Ta-Dones”, if you haven’t already. Revel in them. Doesn’t it feel good?

Is there a task you need to do next week? Do you have an upcoming deadline? Was there a task that you need to move to another day? Write them down on the day you will do them or note them in your ‘What do I need to do next week?’ column.

Did you miss a meeting? Put a check mark next to the meetings you attended and an ‘x’ by ones you skipped. If you need to do something about that (ie. talk to your boss) note that on your ‘To-Dos’ for tomorrow.

Review your ‘To-Dos’ and meetings for tomorrow. This will help you lay them aside, confident that you aren’t forgetting anything. You might be surprised how much better you sleep at night.

At the end of each week, (could be Friday afternoon, or Sunday afternoon) reflect on how your week went. What went well? What went wrong? Can you pinpoint a cause of the problem? What might fix it?

Finally, set yourself up to succeed the next week. Fill out your weekly plan for the upcoming week. Review your monthly calendar and make sure any new or unfinished ‘To-dos’ from your previous week are included this week. 

Banish distractions in less than 10 minutes a day. It will change your life!

When my students first started doing this, they complained. Hard! People avoid change like a toothache. But you can’t always avoid toothaches.

Then the magic happened. After about three weeks, they realized that they were remembering to do homework they would have forgotten. The papers they got back had higher grades. And their parents weren’t on their cases anymore.

They started asking for the plan sheets on Friday afternoon instead of groaning when I handed them out on Monday. They enjoyed getting to reflect about their successes and had better attitudes about their failures. We kept their completed weekly plans in a binder and regularly celebrated their success!

They learned that failure wasn’t permanent, just a problem to be solved. And they had a way to solve it themselves. They felt empowered. Some of them began to experience better mental health, too. Relieving bad stress can do that.

  1. Set your goals
  2. Refresh daily to banish distractions
  3. Reflect, revel and reset

It sounds simple, and after a few weeks of practice, it will be.

Get a free copy of my Weekly Plan sheet here to tweak and use for yourself.

Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft. Top writer in Food and Cooking.

Click here to read more of my writing.


Lose the Quarantine 15 — or More

Getting thinner means feeling better.

I found myself gaining weight during this pandemic. In fact, I gained well over the much discussed quarantine 15. The more weight I gained, the worse I felt, both physically and mentally. I’m sure I’m not alone.

In my mid-30s, I complained to my doctor about gaining weight and asked for thyroid testing. I have several family members whose thyroids underperformed causing weight gain. And I was gaining weight despite dieting and exercise.

My doctor (a woman) ran tests and told me everything was fine and I just needed to eat less and exercise more. I wondered how much more I could do. I already walked almost five miles most days and kept a food log, which was a lot of work. I only ate around 1200 calories a day.

Finally, I went to a well-woman checkup with my OB-GYN. I was in tears, convinced I would be dead within 6 months. I felt that bad. He tried to calm me down (yes, a HE), and said, “Let’s run a few tests.”

The results? My thyroid was underperforming — almost not working at all. He started me on a thyroid hormone and told me to go back to my doctor to follow up. By that time, I had already gained 50 pounds. When I went back to my general doctor, she told me that I would NEVER be able to lose that weight.

Never? Really? How depressing. So why am I exercising so much, and keeping a food log? Why am I starving myself on less than 1200 calories? What was the point?

I quit trying, and over the next two decades put on an additional 15 pounds. When the pandemic came along, the quarantine 15 (okay, 15+) became the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had to do something!

I didn’t want to follow a fad diet. I already knew those didn’t work. I went to my doctor — a different one from the one who told me I would never lose the weight. I told him I was tired of feeling so bad and hurting so much. He did bloodwork and pronounced me healthy.

I decided to do several things that he recommended.

  1. Exercise daily.
  2. Track my food and base my diet on nutrition.
  3. Weigh daily.
  4. Find an accountability partner.

None of these things require you to go to the doctor first, but I would highly encourage you to make your doctor a partner in your weight loss journey. Get a clean bill-of-health before starting.

Build an exercise habit.

Now that I’m 60-years-old, exercise is difficult for me. My knees hurt. My hips hurt. I’m carting around 80 pounds that I need to lose. But there is one exercise that I have always enjoyed. And it costs nothing to do.

I began walking around my neighborhood. I had done it before, so I knew I could do it again. I also knew I could stick with it, because I enjoyed being outside. Money (or lack of) would not keep me from doing it.

A daily goal and schedule is important, or you won’t follow through. Once you have one, you will feel odd when you don’t do it. Your daily goal can increase as your fitness improves. If you need to, you can keep a calendar and put a star on each day you hit your goal.

I started out walking around my block once. Soon it increase to twice. After a while I was able to do a mile and a half in 30 minutes, and I’m still increasing my distance and speed over time.

Besides speeding up weight loss, I also hurt less. And I am breathing better, and sleeping better at night. Find an exercise you enjoy and keep doing it.

Keep a food log.

Writing down everything you eat can be eye-opening. You will soon see what foods you eat too much. For example, I found that I ate way too many sugary sweets: Coke, cake, cookies, chocolate. You get the picture. Those were empty calories that I could eliminate and should definitely reduce.

At first, just listing what you eat is enough. After a while, though, you should start tracking the calories. This, too, will reveal so much. There should be a balance to get good nutrition, and your brain needs a minimum of 135 grams of carbs to maintain its health, too.

One thing I soon discovered while logging my food is how boring my choices are, and how often we ate the same meals. It motivated me to get more creative in the kitchen. Prepackaged foods we purchased seemed quick, but contained more calories and fat that I could control by making them myself.

Keeping track of the food you eat also helps you realize when you have eaten enough, and what you might need to eat more (or less) of to hit your daily goals. You can do this on paper, in a Google doc, or use an app, too. Keep it simple and stick with it.

Weigh yourself at the same time every day.

I’ve found that I get discouraged easily, so I need something to help me know that I’m making progress. Weighing myself shows me that progress. I started out weighing once a week. However, I saw that my weigh bounced up and down. I discovered that when I weighed affected how much I lost.

I did an experiment and weighed at three different times each day: first thing in the morning, after breakfast (which I eat around 10:30 AM), and right before bedtime. I found out that I weighed differently at each time.

But — my weight was consistent between the similar times. If I weighed right after breakfast every day, I found that my weight loss stayed consistent and continued to trend downward. Also, I was able to see daily success. It might have only been .2 pounds, but knowing that it goes down every day helps me.

Pick a time each day to weigh and stick with it. If you weigh before bed, resist the urge to weigh in the morning. Your weight loss will be more evident. Keep track of your progress to keep yourself motivated. A sticky note on your mirror might be enough.

Accountability keeps you motivated.

So far, I have lost 10 pounds of my 80-pound goal. It has taken 2 months, and I still have a long way to go. I know that I will have setbacks and get discouraged. An accountability partner helps me with that. For me, it’s my husband.

An accountability partner keeps you honest about how much weight you’ve lost and the food you track. They also encourage (perhaps badger you) to get out and exercise, even when you don’t want to. I hate sweating and the heat, so my husband makes sure I go before it gets too hot.

A partner can also exercise with you and talk you through it when you want to give up for lack of progress. Mine even lets me know when the meals I make are getting too carbohydrate heavy or repetitive and boring. Maintaining variety in our diet makes sticking to it much easier.

If you have a friend or a neighbor who is on the same journey, partner up and keep each other going. If you have the money, consider hiring a fitness and nutrition coach. Sometimes you can get those things through a gym membership.

Check with your health insurance company to see if they have any wellness programs that include weight loss coaches. Even your doctor can keep you accountable.

The point is — don’t go it alone.

Stay the course.

Never give up on your desire to be healthy and feel better. You deserve that. When you get off track, reset and start again. It’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect to have success, just stick with it long enough to reach your goals.

  1. Establish an exercise habit.
  2. Keep track of your food intake.
  3. Weigh yourself regularly.
  4. Partner up with someone so you aren’t trying to do it alone.

You are worth the effort and will feel much better when you do. I’ve lost ten pounds so far and already feel so much better.

How awesome it that!

Get my free easy 2–week menu plan to help simplify your life and save money!

Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft.


10 Things to Give Thanks for in 2020

It was a difficult year, but we can feel hope.

This year has been so difficult for so many. We have lost so much — family members, jobs, businesses.

But we have many things for which we can be thankful. In a year when depression and anxiety has increased (at least mine has), I find comfort when I make a list of those things, instead of focusing on my losses.

1. We’re alive. 

At the beginning of this year, my father passed away, probably from COVID-19, but we will never know for sure now. His symptoms absolutely matched. The Monday after his funeral, we went into complete lockdown. Isolation didn’t help me through my grief. This is true for most people who lost someone.

But…I’m alive. I have made connections with my family and friends online that is almost as good as in person, just without the hugs. I’ve reached out to two of my aunts that I love dearly and don’t talk to nearly enough. I realized that if I don’t reach out to them, they won’t know I need them, and I won’t know they need me. 

And I want them to know I love them, too.

2. A vaccine is almost here!

Hurrah! This can’t happen soon enough for me. It is going to be my ticket out of my house and into public. Again, millions of Americans (dare I say citizens of the world) will be able to resume a normal life. This return to normalcy is long awaited, and will not go unappreciated.

I may have to wait six months or more before I can take the vaccine, but I will take it. This is my way of being a responsible citizen to this world. It is my way of taking care of those I love. It is also my way of taking care of myself. I am not afraid of this vaccine, I welcome it with open arms. And it is safe.

Soon we can eat out, go to the movies, and take a trip. I can’t wait.

3. Most people survive this deadly virus

Although my father likely died from this disease, I have several friends and family members who contracted it and survived. This is true for millions of people around the world.

My niece, who is a nurse, became sick with it. Her daughter and mother (my sister-in-law) also became ill. It took several weeks, but they finally recovered. 

My aunt, who has rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, also came down with it. She is what they call a long-hauler with long-lasting after effects, but now she finally tests negative. It may take her a while to get over the remaining symptoms, but she has defeated the virus itself.

Several dear friends also tested positive for it. Some were sick with it, some never felt ill. Either way, they are well now. And so are millions around the world.

4. There has been time for self-reflection

Through this past year, there has been time to slow down and really think about what is important in life. And it sure isn’t what I thought it was, at least in the past. Now I know better.

Politics is not important, fairness is. Things are not important, people are. My personal needs are important, but not at the cost of other’s. I view things now in a broader, more global perspective, rather than egocentrically. I need to become “i” and stand side-by-side with others as equals. These are important.

And I need time to develop my best me — the one that cares deeply about others. That requires me to spend time with myself, just me. And that’s important, too. 

I’m grateful for the time to do that. It’s rejuvenating.

5. We can cultivate a new perspective

Since we have had a contentious election and many marches for justice and equality this year, I have a new appreciation for what my fellow Americans who are people of color suffer. I have generally identified with conservatives, but I realized that it does not always reflect my true thinking.

Now I prefer to think of myself as a moderate humanist. While I realize that no solution to a problem will benefit every single person, I prefer any solution to benefit humanity — to lift us all up to a higher moral plane. I want all Americans to have the same opportunities that I have had.

And it may be up to me to help get them there. I read three books this year that started me down this path — Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Stacy Abram’s Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America, and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why it is so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.

My hope is that I can be more open-minded about the struggles that people of color, the poor, and immigrants face in our country. This country was founded with the idea of freedom for all, but we all must do our part to protect each other’s freedom, not just our own. 

6. We can create, learn, grow, and help others

I found, this year more than before, that focusing on creating something useful, learning something new, growing as a human being, and helping others whenever I see a need is my safety net.

I began creating my writing career. It connected me with a whole community of writers who support me, and who I support. Ninja Writer’s has been a lifeline to the world for me, keeping me connected. I have learned so much from them. 

I can use my writing platform to speak out for justice and equality. I can write to help others build a life they love. And I can write about my growth as a human being because, though I am now retired, I still am imperfect and can be a better person. 

7. New life brings hope

My friend’s baby, born in November. Photo by Abbey Lynes-used with permission.

My friend shared her picture of her new baby, born in November. Isn’t he adorable? I think so. His birth gives me hope.

As I walk through the grocery store, speedily trying to collect what few items I need, I see women bravely bringing new life into this world and I applaud them.

I feel grateful when I hear about the first baby born into each of my community hospitals in the new year. These babies represent our future. New lives brought into our world is the ultimate act of hope, and many have that hope.

8. Everyone loves curbside pickup 

I used to take this service for granted each time I picked up my groceries. Afterall, I paid for the service. True, it did save me at least an hour of my time. Then, in this pandemic, grocery stores began to offer this service for free. And it helped to employ many workers, too.

We began to call in our orders to our favorite restaurants and pick our food up curbside, too. This means that we get a taste of eating out, support the restaurant and ensure continued employment for their staff while still staying safe. I love it.

Then, with the approach of the Christmas shopping season, other stores began to offer this service. What a joy it was to drive up, let them know I was there, and they brought it to me. I hate the shopping scene at any time, but especially at the holidays. Just. Too. Many. People.

Since the holiday season is over, stores continue to offer this service. It makes my life so much easier, not to mention safer. Until my husband and I are able to get that elusive vaccine (at least for us in our community) I will be forever grateful to those stores who offer this.

9. Zoom offers social connection

Throughout this pandemic, Zoom has been a lifeline for me. I miss getting together with family and friends so much. I hadn’t seen my family since November of 2019, and Zoom made it possible to get together safely. We laugh and joke and get to see each other more often than ever before.

I also have calls with my writing groups several times each week, which keeps my social needs satisfied while I improve my writing. We give each other feedback and support, ideas and redirection. We build friendships across the nation and the world that make me eager to see them again at each call.

I am grateful for the social connection that this provides while allowing us to stay safely distanced from each other.

10. Streaming services offer more choices

I don’t have cable and don’t watch much TV, but there are some shows I do enjoy. Our old TV, which wasn’t old enough to get rid of as far as I was concerned, no longer supported anything but Netflix and Vudu. 

For Christmas, I got my husband a new BluRay player, thinking it would more provide options and have less trouble with freezing and dropping the network. It didn’t give us the connectivity that I thought it would. So, the day after Christmas, we bought a smarter Smart TV. 

Now we have hundreds of free watching options in addition to begin able to access Netflix, and Vudu. Now we can get Disney+ (for a fee) and Hulu (also for a fee), if we want. Even though I only watch for about an hour or so in the evenings with my husband, we have gotten to see some great new content.

At a time when we can’t go out to the movies, it’s wonderful that they can stream to us.

Leave me a note in the comments to let me know what are you grateful for in 2020.

Get my free tool to help you build a routine to manage your time.

Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft. Top writer in Food and Cooking on Medium.