104. How do you deal with distractions?

I opened my computer to book a flight yesterday and an hour later, I had read some emails, paid my visa bill, journaled a few thoughts but not booked the flight!  How does that happen?  How many times are you on route to do something but never actually get there? Do you find you get to bed at night and think – what have I done today that was worthwhile?  Where did the time go?  Your ability to stay focused is more than just a worthwhile thing to cultivate, it’s a critical factor for your leadership and life in general.

What are your main distractions?  The most common distractions seem to fall into the three categories of personal life issues, electronics or computers and other people.

Personal issues: Are you aware of your level of anxiety and what is causing that ‘out of peace’ feeling or troubled spirit you can experience. It can be caused by a whole host of things of course like – the lack of time to complete a project or an item on your to do list, something going wrong, having a pain that bothers you, a little conflict that you keep going over and over in your mind or demonstrating a bad attitude in your team.  It is so easy to get distracted with ourselves, obsessing about how good a job we did or didn’t do, updating our profile or focusing on how we can improve in some way.

Electronics: The other day my phone wasn’t syncing emails with my laptop.  ‘So what!’ you say.  Well I couldn’t rest until it was fixed – that’s a distraction.  Then the emails themselves became a distraction!  The worst thing you can do with emails is spend a few minutes looking at them and doing nothing with them so your in-tray just gets bigger!!  Make a set time to answer them, file them or trash them.

A salary.com survey reported at the top of the “wasted time” list was employees accessing the Internet for personal business while at work. 64% of respondents said that they visited non-work related websites every day while on the job. At the top of the time waste list of websites was visits to Facebook (41%) and LinkedIn (37%).  How many of you look at your smart phone when you first wake up or last thing at night before you go to bed?  The latest update on my phone now tells me how much screen time I use each day and if it’s increasing or decreasing!  How are you doing with that? 

Others: Relationships are important, but they too sometimes need boundaries.  I remember my first job on a building site, where my boss told me – ‘I don’t mind you talking to the other guys on the job, but Jimmy either talks or works, so don’t get him into a deep conversation in worktime!’  Relational boundaries are important.  If you know certain people talk, talk, talk, then schedule meetings with a boundary of a coffee break or lunch.  If they want to just drop in, explain nicely you’re busy but you will schedule a time to meet. For important tasks you may just have to escape to a quiet place – just like Jesus did to the closest mountain side.

Two traits to avoid: Perfectionism is the desire to do the very best job possible but taking it to an extreme.  You can be concentrating on a small part of the job to get just right but the outcome is delay in completion.  The waste paper bin is full with ‘not quite good enough’ print outs.  The 80/20 rule says that 80% of the result is obtained from the first 20% effort.  Trying to work out every little detail can result in a lot of time-wasting.

Procrastination is simply being slow to start something because you don’t have the motivation or energy to get into it right now.  You say, ‘Why do something today when you can do it tomorrow!’  In this case you are distracted by everything except what you need to be doing.  If you procrastinate for any reason, the result is lost productivity.  You need to clarify the reasons for action and the implications of not taking action.

Jesus understood distraction:  Jesus lived in this world and so was aware of the ways we can be distracted from our priorities.  However, we read that he said, I only do what I see the Father doing.  He stayed in tune with his Father’s wishes and followed his lead.  So, what could have looked like distractions were actually what he was meant to be doing.  Whether it was talking to the crowd on the mountain instead of spending time with his disciples, talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, healing the woman with a hemorrhage or stopping to talk to Bartimaeus.  He even waited four days before going to Bethany when he heard Lazarus had died.  He wasn’t distracted, he was being sensitive to what His father wanted.  Oh that we had that level of focus and connection to the Spirit.

Antidotes for dealing with distractions? 

  • Make a list of your top distractions and give yourself a rule of when you can spend time there.  For instance, if you are drawn by a game on your phone or looking at the latest pics on Instagram or whatever it is that you enjoy, give yourself a specific time to do that but not in your most productive time in the day.
  • Turn off notifications – what does it matter right now that a new email has come in or someone has posted on Facebook! (turn them all off)
  • Give yourself a deadline to finish what you are doing.
  • Play music or white noise – it’s interesting that I find it easier to concentrate on a project sitting in a plane or at the airport because of all the white noise around me.  When it’s really quiet, the slightest noise can distract me.
  • Keep your desk and your computer desktop ‘clutter free’ to keep you from distractions you don’t need.
  • Use reminders rather than try to remember everything in your head.  Let your phone only beep at you for something important.
  • Find a place to study or work where you won’t be interrupted or disturbed.  How much time we waste by trying to get back into the groove of where we were before we were interrupted.
  • Give yourself a break – have a drink, go outside, take a walk.  Mobility gets the blood flowing and the mind working.
  • When something is overwhelming like a huge project, break it down into smaller parts and make a clear goal of how much to do, of what, by when.
  • Become an early bird – get into something before the busyness of the day.
  • Prioritise your ‘to do’ list – Develop an A list and B list, so you don’t keep looking at the things that aren’t so important.
  • Be intentional with your time.

I have just read some wisdom from Dallas Willard – the difference between busyness and being hurried (sometimes referred to as hurry sickness) is important.  Busyness happens to us in seasons and is an issue of our outer lives. We are busy with a lot of things.    Being hurried is an inner issue of our emotions and needs healing.  Busyness needs some decisions to cut back and create boundaries.  Hurry sickness is a constant distraction and needs attention and ministry!

Usually our distractions are things we have cultivated and allow, so there won’t necessarily be an overnight change.  But where distractions have become a problem for you, take time to pray and ask the Lord for the root and discern some practical steps and changes you can make and start applying them immediately.

Until next month,


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