Punctuality Rules!

Do You Have Too Many Distractions?

Do You Have Too Many Distractions?

We live in a society that adores multi-tasking. We watch television while we cook. We listen to the radio (or MP3s, or DVDs, or CDs, or whatever) while we drive. We talk on the phone while we iron. We text while walking the dog. We read while we brush our teeth … (or, is that just me?) We dart back and forth between windows on our computer screens, checking emails, sending tweets, while also writing blog posts, reading message boards, and keeping an eye on the news on the television in the corner. Not to mention answering questions, watching the kids, throwing balls for the dog, running errands…

It’s rare to sit and do ONE thing any more.

Even when you’re doing something that should exclude other activities, it’s hard to focus. When I shower each day, my mind is running over problems. You would think I’d be concentrating on the water, the soap, and not slipping and falling, but no. I watch television while I knit, rather than focusing on what my hands are doing. I check email while talking on the telephone instead of giving my full attention to the person on the other end.

Well, last night, our power went out.

Only for an hour or so, but it left me sitting in a dark room, with a candle, and the choice of straining my eyes trying to read or knit in the dim light, or opening up my netbook and writing. (I have to say, I DO love the battery power of my little netbook. It really does last for 8+ hours.)

I picked the writing, and I have to tell you. A miracle happened.

Sitting in a dark room with nothing to see except the computer screen? And, since the family’s wireless router doesn’t work without electricity, without the distraction of the internet? None of the usual, “That was a great couple of paragraphs, so I’ll reward myself by checking my email.” Nothing to distract me at ALL except to reach over and pet my dog from time to time. (The blackout spooked him, everything was so DARK.)

Well, it was amazing. I had no choice but to focus, and surprisingly, I actually remembered how.

Because the flip side of being able to DO so many things all the time, all at once, is that our collective attention span is getting shorter all the time. I used to be able to sit with a homework assignment and a notebook for at least an hour and really FOCUS on that one thing, but I’ve lost that. These days, the only thing that gets that level of concentration from me is, sadly, not writing, but reading. Hand me a book I haven’t read before and I’ll do nothing else for however many hours it takes, but anything else? Nope. Can’t do it anymore. True, it’s been 20 years since I’ve been out of school, and minds wander more as they get older. (My theory on that is that, since the legs are getting wearier, the mind decides to travel more on its own. Why should the mind AND the body be stuck in one place?)

Mostly, though, it’s that pesky modern living thing that’s causing the trouble. We’re so linked-in, connected, and intertwined and busy ALL the time, none of us has had to focus on any one thing for more than 5 minutes in over a decade. Sure, there are still professions that require absolute focus–you don’t want your brain surgeon stopping midway through a procedure to tweet about his lunch–but in general, we’re losing our ability to do just one thing at a time and do it really well.

Am I the only one this bothers?

I’ve decided I’m going to try to focus more.

  • I’m going to try to forget the internet exists when I sit down to write–no checking emails between sentences!
  • I’m going to try to limit my time on social media distractions. They’re good, they’re important, they’re fun, but they’re time-sucks, and worse, they’re attention-suckers. When part of my brain is whining, “What’s happening on Twitter?” while I try to do, well, anything, that’s counter-productive. So I’ll try to put restrictions on that kind of stuff.
  • I’m going to leave the television off more often. I used to leave it off entirely unless there was something I wanted to watch, but I’ve gotten into the habit of putting it on in the background, which is much too distracting.
  • I’m going to try knitting and spinning in a quiet room for a change, just to see if that helps me regain some focus, like a training exercise. If I can relearn how to focus on the one thing I am doing, maybe it will be easier when I’m sitting in front of the computer, too.

How’s that for a start? What suggestions do you have? Am I the only one struggling with this?

10 thoughts on “Do You Have Too Many Distractions?

  1. amanda

    This is actually a topic I’ve thought about a lot lately. I’m bothered not just by the availability of distractions but the expectation that we HAVE to use them – that we should be always available, always connected. I just want to say sometimes, “Slow down, relax, it will get done when it gets done.” Which is hard to say at work, of course! But I’ve definitely found that when I focus on one task at hand I get more finished and feel a greater sense of accomplishment, whether it’s a task of necessity or something fun.

    Personally, I love lists. Even when all the items are small simple things, lists help me stay focused and track what I need to do (especially helpful when the outside world tries to force me into multitasking). I also sometimes like setting a timer–for x number of minutes I will focus on task “y” and only task “y”. Usually I find that when the timer goes off, I keep on at it, that focus has found me.

    Of course there’s one area where I have to multitask–I simply cannot force myself to ride the exercise bike unless I’m reading something!
    .-= amanda´s last blog ..Sunday Miscellany =-.

  2. --Deb Post author

    I agree–while exercising, multitasking is a must! Of course, most of my exercise involves walking the dog, and he provides plenty of distraction (grin)

    And yes–using a timer is a GREAT suggestion.

  3. J

    Lists help me focus and remember what it was that I wanted to accomplish, but multitasking is definitely a problem. I work from home, and sometimes I’m distracted from a boring or sometimes complex challenge by a household chore. Sometimes this is helpful, as while I’m putting away dishes or folding laundry, the problem that I’ve been puzzling over is worked out, and I can go back to my desk and continue. But more often than not, these chores just take me away from my desk, and I suspect I’d get more done if I didn’t have so many distractions. And that is of course multiplied by the internet, facebook, blogs, etc. Though I don’t read or write as much on blogs as I used to. Stupid facebook.
    .-= J´s last blog ..The Good Thief =-.

  4. --Deb

    My problem with lists is that I make them but usually don’t bother to refer back to them, and since I hate wasting the paper, I soon stop making lists altogether, so … not terribly productive (grin).

  5. Mary Brown

    I find the act of writing things down helps me remember better. I’m a little tactile, I guess.
    A list gives me some peace of mind, too. I’m afraid I’ll forget things (a totally valid fear,) but once they’re down on paper I won’t. (I may not do them today, but they won’t be forgotten soon.) Since I have my notepad around to write things down, it’s there to look at, too.
    The multitasking thing drives me nuts, probably because I don’t do it well. I keep my house quiet, generally. I haven’t watched TV at home in years. So when I go to a store or restaurant and they have the TV or radio going, I can’t think. I was at a new doctor’s office the other day filling out the requisite forms and was so distracted by the music on the radio I couldn’t remember my SSN.
    I like your ideas, Deb. Let us know how it goes in a week or two.
    .-= Mary Brown´s last blog ..Wall Hangings and Blankets? =-.

  6. --Deb Post author

    Mary, the sad part is that I am GOOD at multi-tasking, and much worse at uni-tasking (sigh).

  7. Mary Brown

    It could be a matter of practice. If I want to get better at something the best way is to do it more, usually.
    The closest I get to successfully multitasking is doing something while the clothes are in the washer and dryer (does that count?) and playing music or an educational CD while I eat, but only one meal a day, and this only works because I eat alone, usually. I have a routine: I read during breakfast, CD during lunch, and listen to voicemail during dinner.
    I am very against (for myself) all the social networking stuff. I don’t see the point. Maybe I’m not a very social person…just opinionated. Hmmm…
    .-= Mary Brown´s last blog ..Wall Hangings and Blankets? =-.

  8. Mary Brown

    Sorry I’m hogging your comments…
    Of course, the key in that comment is “If you want to …” If you are happy being a good multitasker, then your great ideas to learn to focus a little better are a great way to find out if you’ll like being focused at times, too.
    My husband was telling me about an article on multitasking he read recently. It talked about an “illusion of competence” that people who multitask get. They think they are getting a lot done because they are doing all these networking things at the same time as their jobs (being college students, in this case) and are over confident about what they are actually capable of at work. I could post the link if you’re interested. The comments were interesting, too.
    .-= Mary Brown´s last blog ..Wall Hangings and Blankets? =-.

  9. Vinish Parikh

    Distractions are part of lifestyle now, few people can do only 1 work at a time and the primary reason for people opting for multitasking is hectic lifestyle and lack of time.