Distraction: Defeating the Beast that Contaminates Leadership and Dilutes Effectiveness
The seduction of distraction is it makes you feel important while diluting usefulness at the same time.
The habit of hurry drains fulfillment and frustrates engagement.
No one achieves excellence by doing one thing while thinking about the next thing.
Distraction dilutes everything it touches.
Meaningful contribution requires merciless elimination of insignificant action.
Some urgencies require attention. Many urgencies are seductive distraction.
You’re so important that you couldn’t possibly control your day. What self-delusion! Hurry is a badge of honor for distracted leaders.
All distracted leaders are ineffective.
Running from place to place and laboring over long to-do lists have increasingly become ways to communicate status: I’m so busy because I’m just so important, the thinking goes. NY Times
Perpetual hurry signals failure, not significance.
How to defeat distraction and do what matters:
The answer to managing your day is you.
It’s tragic that ‘competent’ leaders wave the white flag when it comes to time – the greatest treasure we have.
Stop doing other people’s work. Learn monkey management.
Focus on high-value high-return activities.
Avoid low-return activities.
The ability to distinguish between work that truly matters and busy work maximizes effectiveness.
People unintentionally assign low-value work to good people.
- Bring it up.
- Discuss it.
- Reject it every chance you get.
Note: If it truly matters to higher ups, it’s not low-value work. However, you might not be the best person to do it. Who might be more talented, available, and ready to take on work you could/should reject?
Identify one or two necessities you must complete before day’s end. No more than three.
Use necessity to evaluate urgency.
“For knowledge workers, large chunks of unstructured time are not rewards for doing good work — they’re prerequisites for it.” NY Times You’re doomed until you do this.
What’s dangerous about distracted leadership?
What helps you defeat distraction?
‘Ugh, I’m so Busy’: A Status Symbol for our Time (Atlantic)
7 Proven Strategies for Overcoming Distraction (Entrepreneur)
“Because we focused on the snake, we missed the scorpion.” OK, avoid distraction, but don’t miss the scorpion, because dead men hit no deadlines…
Thanks Mitch. I’ll take your comment as a warning to remain vigilant and not an endorsement of accepting distraction.
Exactly! What you are looking for is to maintain attention, not to become fixated!
What’s dangerous about distracted leadership? We get off track what is intended, which the end result may be a calamity waiting to happen. These can be costly mistakes in business and life if we allow distractions to take over. In meetings turn of the “Cell phone”, give your attention to what matters. I realize in todays world we are pulled more directions than we realize, yet by prioritizing the items sequentially we can obtain a clear path.
What helps you defeat distraction? You have the key components above, which is critical to getting the end result. We must learn to adapt as well, not everything goes as planned, be open to changes.
Thanks Tim. I totally missed the idea that distraction is costly. But of course anything that dilutes effectiveness increases cost.
Turning off cell phones is a great suggestion.
Create a word or phrase such as “focus,” “concentrate,” or “be present” that you can say to yourself as a reminder to stop the internal chatter and give the current task or speaker your full, focused, undivided attention.
Great suggestion, Paul. Anything that increases awareness and intention is a step in the right direction. Love something practical and actionable.
Another very timely message. There are distractions from work, some from family, and some we create ourselves. It is strange how a “theme” can emerge from different sources in one’s life, and apparently I need to re-evaluate how distractions have crept back into my day. I especially like the quote regarding unstructured time. I can’t do my job if I’m rushing from one thing to the next. Time to think is essential. Thank you again for all you do.
Thanks John. Paying attention to patterns and repetitions is a wonderful practice. I wish you well.
Aaah … the tyranny of the urgent!!
Thanks tooarbie. Here’s a link to the article.
These statements stand out for me, “Identify one or two necessities you must complete before day’s end. No more than three.” & “Perpetual hurry signals failure, not significance.” If everything is an “emergency” than nothing is an “emergency”. Plan, focus (as noted by others), organize, communicate and then attack in an appropriate way all “challenges” (not problems) presented as one moves toward solutions. Involve team members as necessary. Brush, rinse, spit and start over the next day.
Thanks Roger. “Brush, rise, spit, and start over the next day.” 🙂
The fierce urgency of NOW …
Yours, or mine?
To what end, of what value?
Does it change our critical path?
For it to work, we may need these things.
I can’t count the number of times this triangulation/ conversation has bridged the dreamers and the doers, with both still motivated and passionate.
Thanks Rurbane. Great questions! The questions escalate in impact as I read through them. Then, count the cost… “We may need things….”
A simple strategy is a thing of beauty.
The other side effect is that you find out who cares about what, and they tend to lead in complement. I love it when I don’t have to do it!
And nearly everyone takes possession of their own concerns, while respecting the impact it has on others’. “We did it” means “I did it” to nearly everyone, and frequently, “Let’s do it again!”
Interesting you bring this up. In my original list of ideas about this, I have a bullet point about working only with people who care. Maybe I’ll post a part 2 tomorrow.
Dan, I love this post! So relevant for me at this season of life. On point #5, i can tell that it is an extremely valuable point, I’m just having a hard time getting a full grasp of it. Could you further elaborate on that quote?
Thanks Josh. I’m glad you asked. The idea is that running from one thing to the next is harmful to knowledge workers. Our brains need down time to function well. The danger of distraction is a brain that doesn’t function well.
To practice down time, you might take a walk, have lunch without anyone around and turn off your cell phone, or just close the office door and turn off the light. Another important factor seems to be sleep. If you wake up refreshed and clear minded you’re probably succeeding in this area.
Hope the above is useful. Cheers
I recently read a quote (and forget who said it to give credit). The quote essentially said “Tomorrow is the thief of your goals and dreams.” Over the years, I’ve tried various ways to prioritize, schedule and execute to avoid procrastination. I find the majority of the time, whatever I’m procrastinating is never really as painful or tedious as I built it to be in my mind. I regularly remind myself of this in order to avoid delay in task/project completion. I tie this to distraction based-on goals and priorities often times taking a backseat to what’s in front of you, what’s being put in front of you from Leaders or subordinates or what’s simply more exciting to work-on.
Most recently, it seems that time and business is the indicator of productivity. I’ve found myself having to realign my goals and avoid distractions. Blocking my own time for personal work, limiting the number of daily meetings and even blocking time to simply think about the business have given my far greater results and evolution’s in the business than most conference calls.
Distraction is tough to avoid. I find myself with a shorter attention span and constantly with distractions available when bordem ensues. Social Media, kids at home (work from home), things around the house (work from home), etc. My list of available distractions seems to outpace my adjustments to avoiding them!
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