On Getting Distracted (and Losing Opportunity)
Multi-tasking arises out of distraction itself.”
Marilyn vos Savant
Picture this: you’re in some sort of brainstorming meeting that is going spectacularly well – lots of really great ideas are flying around, the energy is flowing, you’re taking copious notes, and something in your gut tells you that you’re sitting on some great potential.
Or, you’re attending a terrific seminar where a gifted, motivational speaker gets you fired up to take some sort of transformational action in your life.
Then you get back to your office or home and what happens?
Emails, phone calls, mini-crises and fire drills going on all around you perhaps. Demands coming at you from all directions. How quickly that juice from just a few hours or days before gets drained! And a very strange thing seems to happen.
The powerful ideas from that brainstorming meeting or the electrifying inspiration from the great speaker don’t seem as compelling as they did in the “heat of the moment”.
Is it that we overrated the experience while we were in it, or are we now missing something that is taking away from the potential?
More likely the latter.
When we allow ourselves to become distracted from the original stimuli and tend to the all the “new” demands around us, which we must (mustn’t we?) – then our energy is directed in multiple directions typically without any one of them receiving our utmost concentrated attention.
I contend there are two ways to counter this “fading affect” phenomenon. One is not realistic, and the other is a bit more humbling.
Countering Lost Opportunity
The first (unrealistic) method of countering lost opportunity is to shut the rest of the world out for the next several hours / days / weeks, and simply seize the immediate opportunity that has been presented. This is also known as the “retreat” model where students, devotees, attendees, or whatever term is appropriate remain “immersed” in the rich environment in order to transition from intellectual awareness to actualized action. Yes, this can work, but so few of us have the time and/or desire to make that sort of commitment.
The second is to accept that we’re human, that we live in a busy world with conflicting demands on our time, and that we are really, really bad at keeping everything that is exciting or important to us moving forward as quickly as it possibly could be moving.
And that’s a bit of a euphemism. We are more than really, really bad at it – we’re terrible. Did I mention that this second method is a bit humbling?
One reason we’re so bad at staying focused is that humans have a perverse nature of getting in their own way. There’s a reason most people acknowledge they’re their own worst enemy. It’s because we are.
But, accepting and honoring that (in a non-egotistical sort of way) leads to amazing breakthroughs. Nietzsche proposed “will to power” as the driving force in humans toward achievement. I’d like to suggest a “will to empower” where we give ourselves permission to get distracted, to fight fires all around us, to allow our emotions and energy to ebb and flow – BUT, with this one caveat: that we have a way to come back to all those “commitments” we’ve made to ourselves WHEN we’re in the right frame of mind.
I believe there are two pieces required to make this work. First, a method of capturing not only the ideas we want to move forward, but also the juices we were feeling when we initially embraced the proposition. And second, a method of being reminded of these items, but only when we’re in the best state to be reminded of them.
Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself that you haven’t seen in a long time but once you saw the photo, you not only remembered exactly where and when the picture was taken, but exactly how you felt in that moment? Photos are amazing at conjuring memories, both intellectual and emotional. So can be text, as long as it is written in a way that is meaningful to you.
I have systems I use that remind me of all the different things that I’d like to work on – but I only get reminded at the time it’s appropriate for me. For example, if there is something I’d like to “move forward”, but the next step is for me to spend a fair bit of continuous, intense, focused time thinking about it – then it makes no sense reminding me of that thing if I’m not in a state where I can do exactly that.
Therein lies the essence of why so many things are left undone by so many of us. It’s because we aren’t given the perfect match of tasks to our currently level of time, energy, and interests.
At some points during my day, I have a lot of creating “thinking” energy with some time to spare. Those are the times I want to be reminded of those things that require exactly that. At other times during the day, I am wiped out. During those times, I get reminded of my “brain dead” work that I can do with my eyes closed. So, if we experience varying energy levels, time commitments, and interest levels throughout the day – why shouldn’t we do those tasks that are a perfect fit with “who” we are, given “where” we are (mentally).
Imagine a world where everything you’d like to accomplish gets done. And not only that, it gets done in a way that is pleasing and stimulating to your unique style of work. Well, it’s not only possible, it’s very practical.
Instead of feeling frustrated that you’ve been distracted and haven’t completed the things you wanted to do – embrace that list of unfinished business. Give yourself permission to keep getting distracted. But, complement that with a methodology for serving up exactly what needs to be done as you’re in the right state to do it.
Embrace distraction, while seizing opportunity!