How to Defeat Distraction and Heighten Satisfaction
I haven’t been a fan of all the mumbo jumbo about being present, until recently. Maybe I had too much to do?
Stress and anxiety reveal the danger of distraction and power of being present.
Hurry makes distracted leaders feel important.
#1. Every shiny object that drags you from the present dilutes your impact.
You’re never your best self when you’re distracted.
You bring your best self when you bring your whole self.
#2. Every urgent buzz or ding devalues the people around you.
You tell people they’re insignificant when you habitually check messages in their presence.
Rush and anxiety are permission to neglect people.
#3. Every distraction slows progress.
Distraction requires you to begin again. It’s more efficient to complete a task than to begin it several times.
Anxiety pollutes the present with imagined problems and future responsibilities.
A constant rush to the NEXT thing ruins THIS thing.
Don’t squander the present on the future.
Distracted leaders perpetually rush toward the future while neglecting the present. The pattern repeats tomorrow. Wouldn’t you like to live your life instead of waiting for it to get here?
Being present is:
#1. Giving undivided attention.
You can’t bring your best self when you’re rushing to the next thing. Enjoy what you’re doing now.
#2. Noticing yourself and others.
#3. Perceiving the process as well as the product.
#4. Doing one thing at a time.
Talk to yourself while slowly breathing in and slowly breathing out. (Close your eyes if it helps.)
Breathe in and say:
- This work matters.
- This moment matters.
- People depend on me.
Breathe out and say:
- Bring your best self.
- Give your best.
- Turn from distraction.
(A slow rhythm helps me.)
You have to be present to bring your best self.
How might leaders practice being present in a world full of distraction?
The issue is that what you’re working on today is “yesterday’s problem” in 24 hours. In order to fix tomorrow’s problem when it’s current, you’ve got to be thinking about, resourcing and planning it right now.
Thanks Mitch. Every problem you work to fix already happened. In that sense, problem solving is backward-facing. Of course there is a future aspect, but too often it’s just to make the pain go away.
That kind of problem-solving is an attempt to restore the past.
The best present is being present
Being present is situational awareness at a high level. It’s being clear on the elements that affect decision making and the role of the people involved and how they’re affected. It’s a level oof alertness few leaders achieve as they waste time multi tasking
Thanks John. It’s so easy to get lost in the weeds. Your insight about noticing how people are affected is a real challenge. We might not notice how we impact others while we get things done.
Thanks Mac. I love a well turned phrase.
On being present:
a. presume nothing; discern everything.
b. act for the best; minimize the worst.
c. speak only with affirmation of relation.
d. make nothing personal; it’s less about you or about the Other than it is about the relationship.
Make the relationship primary; yourself and the Other are important in and of themselves, but less so than the relationship itself.
– with apologies to Ruiz and Toltec Wisdom
Thanks Rurbane. So practical. “make the relationship primary.” And for anyone who thinks that’s silly, we need to remember that results and relationships are connected. Weak or bad relationships = disappointing results.
We all get pulled from the current moment with endless distractions in our head and in the immediate environment.
I suggest creating a word or phase that you can use to pull yourself back to the present moment . Here are some examples,
-Stay in the moment
Use your reminder whenever you feel yourself being pulled for the current moment.
Thanks Paul. Yes, an inner mantra helps. That’s the idea behind breathe in/breath out. There’s some useful about the rhythm of 4 or 5 words in and 4 or 5 words out. I really like it when they rhyme.
I value the quote “Presence is the currency of leadership.”
Thanks Randy. Powerful. So, distracted leaders are poor. When you bring your best self to the present you’re rich.
Very timely today. Thank you!!!
Wow this was such a timely post. Me all over right now. Thanks for this.
Props for being honest. Thanks Mark.
From a post I just read by Mitch Ditkoff
1. Pause, take a breath, and become present: In other words, for the moment, let go of your TO DO list and the spinning hard disk of your mind. Unplug from your momentum! See the person standing before you as the perfect person to be standing before you and know that your respectful attention has the potential to work wonders (without taking a whole lot of time).
Rhyme for you!
I’m here present ss you can see.
Here to take care of you and me.
Let no one distract us presently.
So we can fix what needs to be.
Distraction is a key component to which people can easily lose their focus and train of thought. Although it is a part of life and can happen sometimes, it is considered highly unprofessional. For example, to answer your question about how leaders should practice being present in a world filled with distractions, I think they have to start by practicing being mindful. I believe mindfulness improves leadership and productivity. Being mindful is a concept in which you are fully engaged within that moment. This component is similar to the scenario when it’s the last couple of seconds of a tied football and every ounce of your body is fully focused within those last couple of minutes. This same concentration and mindset need to be done and portrayed within leaders since it is easily done to lose focus after a certain period of time. This concept is a mindset that leaders need to incorporate and integrate into their lives. With that being said, one can increase creativity, emotional intelligence, increase productivity and performance level, decision making, and many other factors that make up being a good leader. Being mindful also reduces stress in that you’re thinking in a particular way that sets off a creative outlook on life and life decisions that not only impact you, but also the targeted audience that you are the leader of. From a public health perspective, a mindful leader is one to raise awareness and to set aside bias that can hinder decision-making. This is important to acknowledge especially in the public health field since policy making and advocating for it, a leader must be mindful of both sides and the strong opinions that come with it. As a leader, it is hard to please both sides of a policy-making campaign, however it is necessary to use active listening and listen to what advocates and non-advocates are saying. This way, the audience knows you are engaged and hear all opinions.
Sometimes, there are no other options but reflex, as in “NO, Enough! Not again!”
“Every distraction slows progress.” Well that’s saying a lot! Between living and working in 2 different states, school, social life and grandchildren, it’s amazing that I can hold a single thought in my head for very long. My anxiety is normally through the roof! I have always had a very hectic life and I wish that I could slow down and be in the present. I’m definitely going to try the suggestions in this blog and the comments. The people around me deserve better from me.
It seems that a necessary but not sufficient condition for being present is saying “No” or “Not Now” to something or someone.
I just failed to fully enjoy a really good homemade pecan roll because I was reading this post at the same time. Oops.
I definitely struggle with “being present”. It is easy to be distracted with various deadlines, requirements, and assignments. I would agree distraction devalues people around you. I think it is sort of a paradox – in order to be present and give 100% of yourself to the moment and those around you, you need to remind yourself of your mission. Getting caught up in the weeds, we often need to look to the big picture and remind ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. This mission can be broad – helping people, being a team player etc. When you refocus on the goal, you can see that each steppingstone to the goal has a purpose and you should give it the attention it deserves.
As a leader, one needs to have a great deal of awareness. Awareness entails identifying what potential distractions are. It also requires being able to catch yourself from slipping out of the moment and refocusing. Being able to identify certain triggers will minimize distraction.
Another way to fight distraction is to prioritize. Prioritizing various aspects of the task at hand can help to avoid the scatter brain feeling. Prioritizing and proper scheduling will allow for a leader to give 100% to one task at one time.
It is easy to say take a deep breath and let go of the rest. However, we all know how difficult this can be to do. When I get stress and overwhelmed, I try to “let go” of the background and give my all to the task at hand. I reassure myself that this will ultimately benefit me more in the long run.
Lastly, I appreciate your break down of what being present entails. Specifically, noticing yourself and others – taking a step back to listen to others. I needed to hear this!
For many people, including myself, everyday life is filled with managing multiple conflicting deadlines, priorities, and obligations. Although the concept of being present appears appealing, it can be difficult to block out the daily rush and focus on one thing. I agree that stress and anxiety are the main productivity killers. I used to believe that I could produce higher quality work when I was working under pressure. However, I have recently been noticing how much anxiety weighs on my mental, emotional, and physical health. On the surface-level, I may feel fine, yet the accumulated stress typically manifests in my body. About a month ago, I attended a mindfulness workshop virtually. The speaker stated that many people operate under high levels of stress in their daily lives. From a public health framework, stress is often discussed as a common risk factor for many poor health outcomes, such as heart disease. While I understood the health risks associated with stress from my public health course load, this mindfulness workshop was the first time I actually stopped to notice how stress impacts me. As you have noted, noticing yourself, others, and your surroundings is a great way to practice being present. I used to think that the only way to practice mindfulness was through structured mediation. Now I realize that there are plenty of opportunities to focus on being present from simply sitting outside and noticing the various noises around you to intentionally drinking a cup of hot tea. Within the context of leadership, being present is very important to effectively cultivate genuine relationships with others. I loved the quote that you shared, which stated that your whole self is your best self. In business meetings, I appreciate it when others can close their laptops and turn off their phones. The lack of technology truly allows everyone to focus on the discussion. Undivided attention is a great way to demonstrate your interest in the conversation and value of other people.
There are so many distractions all around us, all the time. It can be hard at times to not get sucked in or sidetracked by these distractions. There can be two different types of distractions present in a person’s life: mental distractions and physical distractions. I think this blog could be applied to not only the leaders in the workplace but also to anyone in life in general. The television, the radio, the news, social media, gossip, a new car, friends, stress, worry and so much more can lead to a distracted lifestyle and mindset. There is always something newer or better to be had, but a person should not let materialistic things distract him or her from reaching one’s goals and being the best version of himself or herself. On the other hand, worry, stress, and anxiety can also cause major distractions within a person’s mind leaking out into his or her life in many ways. Being truly present is so important because time never stops and life goes by fast. I completely agree with the statement made that our constant rush to the next thing ruins the thing in the present. People need to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy and appreciate the present for what it really is. This may be uncomfortable at times, but that is when growth happens.
These distractions can creep in at work and can be just as hindering, especially if it is coming from a leader because leaders need to be focused on what they are doing and pay attention to all the little things going on with the workers being led by them. Phones in the workplace have become an increasing issue, as we use it as a source of communication sometimes. From my own experience, my team at work uses an app to do all of our work-related communicating. While this is useful and saves response time as opposed to emailing, it also allows us to get distracted by other things like text messages, games, and social media. This is a major distraction at my work and I imagine at others, too. I have personally seen errors be made due to a co-worker paying more attention to her phone than the work that needed to be done.
When we allow distractions to disrupt our focus, it not only hinders our progress, but it can also shift or prevent us from reaching our goals. I have found emotional distractions, particularly negative ones, to be harder to overcome. They require more effort to process and eliminate, especially when we allow them to consume our thoughts. Particularly, a lack of self-worth and confidence, along with self-doubt can have a significant effect in someone’s performance and progress. Unexpected events can also occur at any time; therefore, I believe that it is equally important to be aware of emotional distractions, not just in ourselves but also in those individuals that we lead.
It is important to learn how to overcome emotional distractions. I have found several necessary factors in overcoming emotional distractions.
1. You must find the source of the disruption and acknowledge it
Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step into finding a solution. We only hinder ourselves by ignoring it or pretending it does not exist.
2. You must take the time to address that disruption
When we don’t take the time to address it, we prolong performing in a state of fogginess.
3. Actively address it immediately if it reoccurs until it has been eliminated
Some emotional distractions take longer to overcome, particularly if we are not able to eliminate the source. It is important to find ways to cope with them until they no longer affect us.
Distraction and pollution have been continuous factors in my ability to remain productive to this day. I find myself constantly wishing I could be more focused whether it comes to school, my job, or even my personal life at home. Whenever the built-up tasks begin to feel overwhelming and anxiety inducing, I start off by trying to retrain my brain to not look at every single thing that I must complete. Instead, I find it helpful to make small progress with a list and not shame myself for not completing every single task in one day. After all, we are all human and in no way perfect. Although I am in no way a leader, I believe being mindful of others and being patient is a key component to practice being present in a world full of distraction. Oftentimes I find leaders not listening to their peers and being distracted by their phone, which I do find disrespectful. As you stated, “giving undivided attention” is an extremely important way to fully be present with another person.
It’s interesting that you mentioned not rushing as well. Especially in today’s pandemic, most people are in a hurry to get out of the house, disregard the quarantine orders, and do as they please while not keeping in mind others who may be more prone to getting the virus. Although these individuals may not be leaders, your post can strongly related and be used in this time of need as well. Thank you for sharing your insight!
I’ve been tempted almost daily to break my morning routine and rush straight to work now that all I do is walk downstairs to begin, but while I was walking through the neighborhood with my husband recently, he made an excellent point. He reminded me that I bring my best when I don’t skip my morning quiet time.
While “Wake up and Grind” might be found in a cute typeface on a coffee mug at Target, it’s an awful way to be productive. I wake up, ignore my phone, shower, pour a large glass of my favorite iced coffee, read the Bible, write out my thoughts, and then I work. It may seem counterproductive, but the time I spend in the quiet sets my tone for the day. And there is a distinct difference in my attitude and level of productivity when I don’t do those things.
I love working from home, but I have to stay diligent in my routines so that I don’t let go of the boundaries I’ve worked so hard to put in place. And in the moments when I feel like I’m too busy to stop and breathe, I do it anyway. Society glorifies busyness, but it’s not healthy, productive, or life-giving to be so busy that we can’t stop and appreciate the quiet.
I think a big component of being present is being in tune with what your body needs at that current moment and tending to those needs appropriately. Sometimes my distractions are messengers telling me I need to tend to something else my body needs that the current situation is not serving me. If the distraction is a coping mechanism for anxiety (mindless social media browsing, snacking when you’re not hungry, engaging in drugs/alcohol, etc), meditating is a great way to refocus and calm your body. Going for a walk or journaling are also ways to release physical and emotional anxious energy. Other times distractions are signaling fatigue and being overworked. When you haven’t gotten enough rest it is difficult to give undivided attention or to bring your best self. As you stated, “you bring your best self when you bring your whole self,” and the only way you can make that happen is by slowing down and listening to what your body needs. I’ve seen so many of my colleagues caught up in the hurry of life, under the impression that involvement = impact. When in reality, their plate is so full that it is impossible for them to give themselves fully to each of their obligations, without compromising their impact in the process. In the meantime, their grades are suffering, they are struggling to maintain personal relationships, they are behind on work assignments, and overall their wellbeing is jeopardized. Rush, anxiety, hurry are distractions in and of themselves and impede on our ability to maintain and develop healthy relationships with other and ourselves.
“Stress and anxiety reveal the danger of distraction”, all to true! Perfect timing for a Saturday morning with 18+ things on the to-do list before the first cup of coffee!
I have only just realized that adding so many tasks and places to be really does not allow one to truly be all there, even if I am physically there. I thought by doing so much and trying to be everywhere that I was doing the most good, but by only being partially present at each task, I was not actually fulfilling my original goal.
Being present is truly being aware of your impact on a situation and how it affects those around you. Continuing to divert attention to the past, unchangeable, or giving too much attention to the future, out of any control, seems to be the source of so much anxiety and distraction. Physical time travel is not yet possible, but mental time travel takes up a huge part of the mind. Being compassionate to yourself and understanding that these distractions are often a protective instinct, anticipating harm or offering information to prevent any. Like many of the best things, practicing mindfulness and living in the moment takes time and constant reflection. Being in the completely in the moment allows you to give your best and appreciate the small joys that make up a great day!
Encouraging yourself to be present in a conversation by listening without the intention to respond, but by being curious can be helpful.
Cultivating more awareness to prevent distractions can be a struggle, but ultimately allows you to be your best and enjoy the little things. Thanks, Dan!
When the phone says “jump,” you should not respond with “how high.” Unless you are waiting for a go-ahead or some big urgent feedback that is keeping something from moving forward within the day, the phone can be left on your desk or or temporarily silenced while you’re conferring with coworkers/employees. Your relationship with your phone shouldn’t be one of submissiveness. I have personal experience with a person that was an extreme case of answering every buzz and ding. It does translate to devaluing those in present company.
This post reminds me of the popular quote by Corrie Ten Boom: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” Or Barbara Cameron’s adaptation: “Worry about tomorrow steals the joy from today.” When you’re rushed, anxious, or distracted, you are missing what’s right in front of you. This could be a person, an obvious mistake, or an integral part of the task that could make your job easier but it goes unnoticed. It IS difficult to resist distractions, especially when the distraction is an important one. However, important does not equate to urgent. And, if something is urgent, then you adjust your sequence of importance and you’d deal with that thing first anyway.
When anxiety and rush take over, I’ve found that, in the moment I notice it, stopping and doing a grounding exercise slows things down and replaces anxiety with calm focus, and brings you back into the present. Here are a few examples of grounding exercises I’ve found work quite well and are useful in various situations:
1) name 3 things you physically feel, 3 things you hear, and 3 things you see
2) touch 5 objects or textures around you and name them
3) toss something into the air 10-15 times (or more)
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I had my 8-year old grandson watch the Amy Barrett hearing for two minutes with no sound from the TV. I then asked him , “What do you see?”
He said, “She makes eye contact. She has no distractions. She’s not looking around the room.
I added–She is very present–in the moment–giving the speaker her full, undivided attention.
One way I practice being present is to maximize the window (Skype, Zoom, or Teams call) so the other person or team meeting is the only thing on my screen. I have all my notifications turned off and my phone is across my desk – also with the notifications off. If the meeting is somewhat disrupting something I’m in the middle of, I take about five minutes before the call/meeting and write down everything I can about my current task, what’s on my mind, and what I need to do. Then I put the list aside and start my meeting with a clean piece of paper and what I hope to achieve during this current call. I determine if I’m here to listen, offer suggestions, or provide specific help by asking what the other person thinks the best outcome should be at the end of our meeting. This way, we both work toward what is most helpful for the conversation and this can also limit me heading into a conversation or offering recommendations when that’s not what the other person is looking for. I try not to watch the clock but I do keep up with time to make sure we meet the call objectives – or extend the meeting to make sure we have time. When the objective is met and the meeting is over, I go back to my work and am able to pick up where I left off with my list.