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Distancing The Distraction


Distractions are everywhere. Most distractions are man-made. And what's man-made can be restrained to a great extent.  However, if distractions are not controlled the results are painful and at times fatal.

We are all familiar with ice-breaker games. It’s a great start to meetings, events, conferences, study groups etc. 


I remember one of the ice breaker games played at a church camp. The intent of the game was to get the large gathering size into smaller teams.

The way the game works is – 

Each person (so you need to roughly know the number of attendees) is given a chit of paper with an animal sound written in it. It could be ‘Roar’, ‘Chirp’, ‘Quack’, ‘Neigh’, ‘Oink’ and so on. Group leaders are identified and they too have a chit of paper with animal sounds. No two group leaders will have the same sound. Also at this point in time, the group leaders do not reveal their sounds. It’s only after the co-ordinator blows the whistle, should each person including the group leader start making loud sounds (as indicated in their chit) and find their way towards their group leader. It’s a crazy noisy fun session.   

 

Many are successful to reach their leaders before the time is up. However, you could find few still cawing, mooing, oinking and roaring to get to the right team. Participants are easily distracted because they find their own sound drown out in this chaotic jungle clatter. The chaos adds to the fun.

For my 2 year old, staying within the boundaries of a whiteboard while scribbling with a marker is a challenge. I think it’s more of an ‘always doing things out-of-the-box’ syndrome 😀


A marker in her hand is like an ultimate sensory toy. If I am temporarily distracted, the marker can make it’s way swiftly inside her mouth, run all over her dress, leg, face and finally the wall. Just looking at the amount of clean-up required makes me tired.

Until I discovered washable markers!


We all get distracted. 


Distraction can be good or negative (harmful or even derail us). 


Good Distraction


A visual alteration

Have you tried calming a hysterically crying baby? It’s never easy.

I have found myself nervous and helpless at those times.

No amount of management frameworks, process best practices or industrial modus operandi will come handy at this hour.


The only thing that could result in a lower decibel relief is a distraction.

A change in scene.   


Walking around with your baby to a different room temporarily distracts them (i.e if their eyes are open). A change in scene stimulates them and partly moves their attention away from the cause of discomfort. It’s easier for a one to then further investigate the cause of cry.


A change in the scene is also a great tool in young and old to help refocus. It boosts creative thinking. 


Negative Distraction


Ghost driving

That’s ‘wrong-way’ driving and takes you away from your destination. Distraction does the same thing. Distractions that lack purpose, can drive us farther away from achieving goals.


Did you know that BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) had a policy that it would not allow WAGs (Wives and Girl Friends) to accompany Indian players for the first 20 days of the World Cup in 2019? 

Source: From an online newspaper

Live sports like Cricket, clearly understood the damage distraction could cause to their players. A player has to be in absolute top form, relaxed and full of confidence for giving a good performance. 

  1. Players do get distracted in the company of WAGs. Their focus is affected. 

  2. Practice time to boost self-performance is usually divided with WAGs and touring the city. 

  3. Players could get over-concerned about WAGs needs being met. 

Disclaimer: Not all players behave irresponsibly.

Whether WAGs should be allowed or not is a tough call for BCCI to make.

After all, you can’t argue with love.

But if that’s at the cost of delivery? Ponder that for a while. 


The Bible mentions that everything we do has a Purpose, a Place and a Price to it.


‘There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens’ Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV®

Distraction can be a killer


I recently read about a South Korean couple who were introduced to internet gaming. This slowly turned over as addiction and means to escape reality. They sought the virtual sphere as a means to escape the depression of losing their real-life jobs. While they enjoyed their virtual addiction and even raised a virtual child called Anima on the web, their real 3-month-old baby girl was left at home all alone, unattended and uncared for. They would only give her some powdered milk and leave the apartment for the night to get on to a virtual world. One morning when they returned back after their 10 hr gaming session, they found that their baby had died due to malnutrition. She was unnamed.

(paraphrased from the book Our Daily Journey – volume 3) 

If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything. James Clear

Sadly distraction comes in all shapes and sizes. And it’s hard at times to realize that someone or something is distracting you. 


Let’s look at some of the common triggers for distraction.


Common triggers of distraction and ways to mitigate


1. Smartphone

I am sure you knew this. We tend to have a copious amount of apps installed on our phones. With notification popping up by fits and starts, to the temptation of checking in on messages frequently it’s sure to top the chart of distraction.  

Mitigation: 

  1. Mute notifications. 

  2. Let people know they can call you directly or knock on your cubicle/door if things are urgent. 

  3. Timebox your activity on the phone. Designate specific time in the day to check on messages or any other activity. 

2. Unpreparedness

Rushing to finish things at the last minute causes anxiety and an anxious mind is not a very serviceable tool. 


Mitigation: 

  1. Prepare in advance.

  2. Spend a few minutes at the end of each workday and make a note of what needs to be done next or if you are using a to-do or priority matrix, review it.


3. Noise

Background noise

They can divert our attention causing it difficult to focus. e.g. phone ringing, music in the background, people talking, dripping tap, raindrops falling over asbestos sheets, honking from a busy road etc

Mitigation: 

  1. Set up your work area at a place that has the least disturbance. Close windows if possible to cut out some noise. Cos those same noises can distract someone on the other end if you are on a phone call.

  2. Fix noises from appliances or fixtures. 

Blast from the past

These are emotions we carry from past hurt, loss or failures. It holds you back and stops you from advancing.  

Mitigation: 

  1. Let the past be past, it isn’t helpful dragging around the wounds and weighing yourself down. 

  2. Everyone on this planet has either failed, had a loss or experienced hurt. 

  3. We learn from those experiences and use them to catapult back to the purpose God created us for. God promises a new beginning to those who place their trust in Him.

‘Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. ‘ Proverbs 4:25 NIV®


4. Health

A healthy lifestyle is intertwined with a healthy mind. You could have noticed that poor health usually slumps down the motivation to get things done. The pain or discomfort could distract you from your intent and make you believe that it’s not worth working on. 


Mitigation: 

  1. Exercise, 

  2. Eat less, eat better.

  3. Store up God’s word in your heart. God’s word is alive and active. God’s word heals.

5. Worries / Uncertainties

Worry plainly eats away the joy of living and we usually worry about uncertain things (something you and I are not sure of). It is something we falsely believe in or grow with. Yet we lose sleep and peace over it and get distracted from what calls attention.

“Worry is like rocking in a rocking chair all day, because it keeps you busy but gets you nowhere.” — Joyce Meyer

Mitigation: 

  1. Stay connected with friends and families who can feed enriching words. 

  2. Stay away from too much news or rumours.

6. Impatience

Have you ever been in a scenario where there are too many things running through your mind and you just can’t be in the present to hear what the other person is saying? Cos all that matters for you at that moment is ‘you’ and ‘the things you need to get done’. What about working with an employee who is very slow and you are itching to just do that job yourself? Impatience can distract us from being aware of or be sensitive to other’s needs.

Mitigation: 

  1. Be present in the NOW. 

  2. If you lack time, state it politely. Suggest a better time. You will be doing a favour for yourself and for their time. They will still continue to be your friend and have respect for you 😊


7. People

Letting others in on your space when you need to focus. It’s common to find colleagues peeping over / stopping by your cubicle to quickly check with you on something or sometimes for just a chat. It can quickly distract you from your chain of thoughts. After they leave, it takes a bit of an effort to find your thought thread back to where you had stopped.

Mitigation: 

  1. Educate colleagues/teammates to silently check on your availability to be disturbed. e.g If someone stops by my desk ad I don’t immediately gaze up that gives the person a cue that I am doing something important and am unwilling to be disturbed. 

  2. Learn to say ‘No’. 

  3. Use the status of your messenger, MST, Skype or any other collaboration app to the advantage. 

Kids can be great distractions at meetings. Their cuteness can override the most charismatic speaker or compelling lectures.

Mitigation: 

  1. Offer help to engage the child while the parent can attend the seminar. If the parent can take the kid outside the room for a while, suggest politely.

  2. Smaller kids thrive on attention. Don’t encourage their distractions by smiling or laughing at their silliness. If no one gives attention, they usually stay quiet. 

8. Multi-tasking

Although multitasking helps in getting more things done. It’s not a very productive way of doing things. Multi-tasking often leads to mediocre results since it distracts one from getting things done excellently. The main goal of multi-tasking is to just get it done. Quality is usually secondary.

Mitigation: 

  1. Work on one thing at a time. 

  2. Timebox your activities.

9. Clutter

The more you see them around, the more you are reminded to add them to your to-dos. Thus making you anxious, stressed and distracted from what needs to be currently done.

Mitigation: 

  1. Keep things organized. 

  2. Clean up as you go, so that you don’t have a burden of arranging and cleaning later. 

10. A tired body/ mind

A distracted mind is often a tired mind, leading to wrong decisions and choices. It clouds your capability to think straight. It overrides discernment and flows with feelings and emotions. Thus causing a systemic collapse.

Mitigation: 

  1. Get plenty of rest. 

  2. Sleep early.

11. Boredom

A monotonous routine is usually done in auto-pilot mode. It doesn’t need a lot of deep thinking. This usually results in a lack of interest and keeps one limited, thus distracting from a will to progress.

Mitigation: 

  1. Upskill to upscale. 

  2. Enroll in online courses. 

12. Too many choices

I am sure you have faced this. Go shopping without a list and you are bound to have an attraction towards distraction. I’ve been guilty of this and have bought stuff that wasn’t needed at all. A list keeps you watchful and at the same time helps you get your shopping done sooner. 

Mitigation: 

  1. Make a list when you go out shopping / or go online.

  2. Hold yourself accountable.

13. Technology

We need to control technology not the other way around. While attending online seminars, if there is a sudden internet downtime or let’s say you were hosting a WebEx session and you are facing low network bandwidth, you are bound to lose your cool and be quickly distracted away from being an active participant.

Mitigation:

  1. Invest in a better network.

  2. If you are facing issues with hosting, add an alternate host too.

  3. So in case you drop off, the online meeting can still continue without participants getting dropped out as well and the need for them to join in again. 


Results of distraction

Most distractions are man-made. And what’s man-made can be restrained to a great extent. 

However, if distractions are not controlled the results are painful and at times fatal.


Distraction can lead to

  1. Lack of empathy. People can be lost in selfish goals/achievements oblivion to a coworker’s or loved one’s need or struggle. ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’ Ephesians 4:32 NIV®

  2. Settling for mediocrity over excellence. e.g. late submission or delayed work causing loss of productive hours. Often the goal of finishing a product or work is to just get it over with. The real purpose is lost and the vision gets blurred.

  3. Stress. Anxiety is on a rise with a distracted mind. Leading to depressed and poor lifestyle. In a world of consumerism, it’s best to live as a minimalistic yet with essentialism in mind.

  4. Unfulfilled commitments. A distracted mind is not present in the ‘NOW’. Leading to higher chances of forgetting, misunderstanding and mistakes. Thus often leaving stakeholders doubtful about their belief in the vendor. 

  5. Accidents. Distraction is one of the leading causes of vehicle-related deaths around the world.

Overcoming distractions

There is no one psalm to poof keep your mind focussed and withstand all distractions.


Distractions are everywhere. However, there are measures we need to practice daily to help minimize the possibility of getting distracted. In addition to the mitigations I mentioned earlier, there are few more items we could do.

  1. Be prepared. Acknowledge that distractions are bound to reach you even if you don’t go out looking for one. So be prepared. Prep things in advance. Be it either a meal-prep or prep in advance your next workday. 

  2. Start early. Beat the distraction traffic. Start early and work on those items that need strict focus before the crowd reaches the office or comes on-line.  

  3. Avoid working in real-time. Stop answering every e-mail or message no sooner it pops up on the screen. Allocate time for doing those and let your team know your work style. Ask them to reach out to you directly if anything is urgent. 

A distracted mind is like a wild horse running around aimlessly causing damage. But a discerning mind is prepared to limit the damage and follows the right path.


‘Folly brings joy to one who has no sense, but whoever has understanding keeps a straight course. ‘ Proverbs 15:21 NIV®


All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com

The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™


#RemoveDistraction #WisdomAtWork #RemoteWorking

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