As I learn more and more about productivity, I find less and less about willpower and self-discipline. The research seems to suggest that we’re largely better off avoiding temptation than learning to resist it. (This approach appeals to me, probably because I don’t seem to have much self-discipline.) It’s an idea that goes back at least as far as ancient Greece.
In The Odyssey, Odysseus ordered his men to lash him to the mast of the ship and plug their own ears with wax as they sailed past the Sirens so he could hear their irresistible song without being lured to his death. Odysseus wasn’t interested in productivity—he just wanted to hear what all the fuss was about, Siren-wise—but we can take a cue from him nonetheless.
This tactic is common among top performers. Seth Godin doesn’t watch TV. Michael Pollan built a writing shed behind his house. Hopelessly distracted at home and under massive pressure, J.K. Rowling secretly finished the seventh Harry Potter book in room 552 of Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel.
It’s a principle worth considering: Instead of resisting distractions, avoid or neutralize them.