At a recent conference, speaker Curt Steinhorst’s keynote address was called Thriving in the Age of Distraction. He’s a talented guy that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing before, and this time was no exception. Not only is his material fact-based, but he offers simple solutions to keep this from being “just another speech.”
Regrettably, the simplest solutions aren’t necessarily the easiest to implement. Even if the solutions are succinct, catchy, self-evident, and so bloody simple you wonder how you didn’t figure it out yourself. Don’tcha hate when that happens? Greater minds than mine have studied why we don’t do what we should so I’m not re-plowing that ground here. Besides, if I had the failsafe method I’d be on the speaker’s circuit.
So here’s the deal. Never in the history of man have we been so distracted. From our start as cave dwellers to 2017, we’ve collectively had to assimilate the advent of writing, the printing press, driving, and now everything. We are distracted because of change in access. Unless we choose otherwise there is unfettered access to us and from us to the world 24-7. Forty percent of distraction is from the outside in. Math genius that I am says that most of it is then internal.
Endless access equals limited attention. Attention is our most precious and limited resource. Lest you believe it’s only millennials who are distracted, think again. The evils of distraction are widely known so I won’t list them here. Not every task requires our full attention but those that do, do: long-term memory, problem solving, critical thinking. And forget multitasking. Listening to music without words, doodling, and listening to audio books while doing housework can be selectively paired if the attention required is medium or light.
Assuming we agree that we’re missing what’s important (however we define that) what real things can we do to stem the tide?
- Understand that most people lose energy right after lunch and at the end of the day so plan accordingly.
- Take a hard look at our environment. Does it facilitate or rob attention?
- Use Evernote or similar tool for note taking with easy access/recall when we do have an attention burst.
- Spend two minutes imagining the best possible outcome for the day.
- Use filtering questions to decide if you should say yes, no, or not now when someone wants your attention:
- What do I want?
- What do they need?
- What can I do?
- Turn off push notifications on your phone.
- Use ‘do not disturb’ in your phone settings with all but your loved ones.
- Un-enroll from external intrusions into the inbox of your life.
- Use Freedom to block apps, websites, or the entire internet from your devices.
- Don’t be a one-man-band caricature. Use ‘binoculars’ to focus on the one important thing right now.
- Build a ‘focus vault’ when you are unavailable to anyone for any reason. Aim for two forty-minute sessions per day. Similar escapes worked for guys like Einstein, Darwin, and Nietzsche.
We didn’t get here overnight, so we won’t fix it overnight either. But if we want to stop frittering away our time and our lives it will take awareness and action. Now, if you’ll excuse I’m going into my focus vault, from where I sit.