These days, it seems all of us are grappling with an increasing number of distractions popping up during our workday. While some can be trivial or annoying, others can turn out to be more pressing and demanding a shift in our focus and attention. It’s the latter that I’ve been dealing with and which gave rise to the thoughts below on how we might better address this fracturing of our time, focus, and attention.
Over the last few days, my girls – and as is inevitably the case, my wife and myself – have been fighting off a bad case of the flu. While taking care of the kids when they get sick is par for the course in parenthood, it can still be a major disruption to one’s work planning and schedule. And although it’s easy for others to sympathize with how such distractions can impact your productivity and focus, it doesn’t change the fact of how it can still be frustrating to see the workload increase because of your diminished capacity.
Of course, this is the very nature of distractions – they distract us from accomplishing what we originally set out to do, by pulling our attention away to other tasks than the one we wanted to complete. As I tried to juggle the demands of work, kids and trying to fight off this bug myself, I came to recognize the following truths we all have to grapple with in this growing sea of distractions:
1. When surrounded by distractions, it’s important to evaluate tasks against desired goals
One of the common themes on my blog has been the importance of giving ourselves more time to reflect and review what we’ve accomplished and where we want to go next, as opposed to the current short-term focus that has most organizations simply reacting to market conditions.
As I deliberated on whether I’d have to take a few days off work or not, my first thought was naturally on what tasks, meetings, and assignments would be impacted by such a decision. And yet, rather than using that as the sole basis for determining how I’d manage this week, I asked myself how important were the various tasks to my goals. In other words, which ones really mattered and would have a big impact on my long-term goals/plans?
Likewise, when faced with a number of distractions all trying to carve a piece of your attention, ask yourself which ones truly deserve your attention, as opposed to simply trying to draw your focus away from what matters. Admittedly, it sounds odd to try and assess your bearings when faced with a large number of distractions, until we recognize that it’s under those conditions that we’re at the greatest risk of going off-course
2. When your head is not in the game, it’s time to shift to working on those less desirable tasks
When I sat down to write my next piece for my blog, I already had an idea of what I wanted to write about. And yet, no matter how much I read my notes and the rough sections I’d already written, I just couldn’t get the pieces to connect as they should. Feeling frustrated and tired, I put away my laptop and started catching up on some easier, mindless tasks I never seemed to have the time for.
Now, this didn’t help me complete the tasks I had on my ‘To-Do list’, but it did give me the satisfaction of feeling I was doing at least something productive with my time. Similarly, if you feel yourself getting frustrated by how the various distractions on your plate have you stuck in neutral, recognize that your energy and focus is not where it needs to be to get that work done and shift your attention to tackling some of the more mundane tasks you have lying around.
3. If even mundane tasks are hard to do, then it’s time to take a break
No matter what kinds of distractions are currently surrouding you, we all intuitively understand that we have work that needs to be done. Unfortunately, no matter how rational or understandable this might be, it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, there’s just no way we’ll be able to get our minds out of neutral and back into drive.
In these cases, the truth is that we’re better off simply accepting the fact that we got too much going on and instead of pressuring ourselves to get going, it’s better to look at this as an opportunity to take a short break before you pick up where you left off.
Granted, none of the above truths will help you to diminish the number of distractions that will appear in your workday. And given the current growth in communications technology and inter-connections between various global markets and industries, it’s unlikely that the amount of distractions we’ll face will decline anytime soon. However, by recognizing and implementing the three approaches above, we stand a much better chance of not only keeping these distractions at bay, but preventing them from steering us away from our shared purpose.