Working With Distraction

by Craig Garner

I’m writing this at 7:20 in the morning. I’m sitting on the couch while my two young sons run around the room, shouting and playing. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is airing on the TV. And the cat keeps nuzzling into my lap, knocking my arm while I’m trying to type.

This got me thinking about distractions, and working through them.

So many sources of information state that we should get rid of all distractions before we can work, write, create, or perform any sort of task.

This is the real world. There is no such thing as ‘no distractions’.

We have children, colleagues, emails, mobile phones, day dreams, open plan offices, the Internet. We can’t all retreat to our mountain lodge with only ourselves and the bare essentials.

We must learn to focus through the din.

Now, after I’ve dealt with crying children and wiping water off the floor, the TV show has changed to Little Einsteins. At least the cat has moved to the other couch.

Keeping your focus is difficult. When disturbed, you have to try keep your train of thought until you return to your task. Sometimes it is possible, sometimes not.

But what if your rhythm is a broken rhythm?

Accept the fact that there are forever going to be distractions. You will remain a lot calmer when distractions do occur, and regain your rhythm quicker. Not accepting it causes you to increase your irritation each time you are distracted. Your stress level increases. And with that, it becomes harder to focus.

Go with the flow. Take it as it comes. Be flexible.

My eldest son is now leaning on my shoulder, fidgeting, moving, talking to the T.V., as well as providing a blow by blow account of what is happening (to nobody in particular).

Split your focus between your task and what is happening around you. The distractions will ebb and flow like the tide. As the distractions lessen, apply more focus to your task. As they increase, become more open to the changing situation.

At home, it is difficult to apply the split focus as young children tend to demand more attention. But it is possible, with a lot of practice and patience – especially patience.

Managing distraction at the office is a different kettle of fish. I can usually focus more on the task at hand, and phase out the background noise. In a way, the office is a lot easier, as the distractions don’t require your immediate attention – unlike young children.

The trouble in the workplace is providing attention to people who tap you on the shoulder, phone calls, and emails. Similar to home, you must learn to temporarily store your train of thought while your focus is diverted elsewhere. This can be a troublesome task. Constantly switching channels between the task at hand, meetings, or interruptions.

Let me carry on while my son wipes his nose on my shirt, and the other scoots around the room.

The way to retain your task status mentally is to have ‘checkpoints’ while you are busy with the task. Simple mental pointers such as ‘I finished the section on resource forecasting’, or ‘all I have left in this statement of work are the financials’, or ‘I stated the history behind the situation, now I must explain to Jerry what I need’.

Mental checkpoints will help you remember where you were before you were distracted. All you need is a pointer, a single reminder, and you will remember how far you got. Your brain is smart that way.

I’ve just had to break up a bickering session between the kids, advising them what sharing is, and how to do it. One tantrum by the youngest, and one sulking session by the eldest.

How to work with distractions:

  • Accept the fact that there will be distractions.
  • Be adaptable and flexible.
  • Be aware of what is happening around you. Apply focus when distractions are low.
  • Have consistent mental checkpoints while busy with your task.

Distractions are a pain in the ass. Accept the fact you will have them, and your day will be so much more productive.

And after all is said and done, both boys are with me on the couch, where they are receiving some parental love. Time for me to go onto my next task – some rough and tumble with my boys. And I’ve accepted the fact there will be distractions…

[image: Craig Garner]