Southwrite

Telling stories

Pardon my Distration

Posted by southwrite on June 7, 2014

Woman holding clock ice

I’m sitting in church on a Sunday morning. Up at the front of the auditorium, Rev. Alan is talking about what a strange sight it is to see people sitting together and starting intently at their phones – not talking to each other. Social media is making us all very unsociable, he implies. As I listen it takes an effort not to pull out my own phone. Maybe I should have checked-in on Facebook. Are there emails I should read? You never know when you’re going to get an important message form a client – early on a Sunday morning.

I’m not the only one who can’t focus on what is in front of me. I got up early and drove through city traffic to get here as I do just about Sunday because I think it’s important. Once I’m in my seat my focus can easily shift to something else. I think about the assignment I could be working on or the trip out of town that’s coming up later in the week.  I’m distracted.

One large workplace study found that 66 percent of workers can’t focus on one thing at a time. About 70 percent don’t have regular time for creative or strategic thinking while at work. This distraction is causing them to feel disconnected dissatisfied with their worklife even as they devote more and more hours to it.

We all seem to be trying to do too much at once. A couple of decades ago the multi-tasking trend popped up. To be more efficient we were all supposed to do more than one thing at time. A lot of people tried that and the results were obvious – multi-tasking made you less efficient and the results poorer than if you focused on one thing at a time.

Despite all the research bashing most people still seem to believe they should be ably juggling several jobs simultaneously. Maybe it’s because they have too much to do or because no one thing is sufficiently worthy of their time. When I look at my phone don’t really hear the sermon, but I also don’t give the email my full attention either. So the more distracted I am the more distracted I become.

Just like the office workers cited above, I find my distraction slipping over into work. Once again I’m checking and answering emails while on the phone doing interviews. It’s rare that any of these tasks are vital. My energy would be better spent listening to the experts who are sharing their time and expertise with me.

But I can’t stop. Even as I write this post, I’m stopping to look at the layout of an employee newsletter just arrived from the designer while checking notes for another call I’ll be doing in a half hour.

One of the reasons we’re distracted is that we have so much information coming at us all the time. Whether we’re sitting in front of a laptop or an iPhone, we have nearly limitless access to everything that’s on the web. We can read any article, see any video and check in with just about anybody who’s out there. With so much to choose from it’s hard to narrow it down. We’re afraid that we’ll miss out if we don’t immerse ourselves in everything.

No wonder we’re unhappy.

So what can we do? We need to learn again how to focus. The few who are able to do so are more likely to be better at what they do. They get superior results and – not surprisingly they also tend to be happier than the distracted many.

One way to get back to focus is to start small. Try setting a timer (your smartphone has one of course) for a specific period of time – say 20 minutes, but not more than 30. Then commit to working on one thing without distraction. If you need to write, write without editing or second guess yourself. And don’t stop until the timer goes off. Then reward yourself with a distraction – or a cookie.

I use this process and found it makes me much more productive. By giving myself permission to focus for a short period of time, I get much ore done than I would otherwise. So, give it a try and see how it works for you.

The timer method doesn’t have to be just for work. You can set aside a short period of time to do anything without distraction – talking to your partner or playing with your kids are all worthy your undivided attention. You can probably find others.

And, who knows. You may like those undistracted periods so much that they begin become the nrom.

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6 Responses to “Pardon my Distration”

  1. So very true. I also suffer from ADD, and I’m convinced that being surrounded by all the tech exacerbates it. Have heard of using a timer, but haven’t tried. Will start today. Thanks!

  2. helldoesntownme said

    I must admit, sometimes I multi-task through my prayers. I must force myself to pray and only pray. But the timer method really works. It’s amazing how much one can do in 15 – 20 minutes. And how refreshed one feels when doing just one task at a time. Thanks for this piece. Drusilla (http://lovedasif.com/)

  3. I agree, Randy. I have to INSIST that my grandkids put away their cell phones during dinner, movies, museums, etc. Otherwise, why take them? I also need to set aside time for email and FB and not look at it til the time is up. Harder to do than to say.

    • southwrite said

      Yes, I would agree Mickey — much harder to do than say. When I visit a museum I’m often taking pictures and Facebooking about it. It’s hard to stop even if I’m not working.

  4. […] Pardon my Distraction via Southwrite […]

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