2023 September 5 Stop being distracted!

Sep 05, 2023

Hi, this is Jim Cranston from 7EveryMinute and 7EveryMinute.com, the podcast and website about re-imagining your life. Thanks for joining me today to talk about being distracted from life. If you like what you hear today, please leave a like, tell your friends, and send me a message.


Recently we've talked about life's priorities, about being the leader, prioritizing your core beliefs, living your life with inspiration and motivation and self-honesty. Tonight we're going to shift slightly and talk about why we never seem to get anything done, even though we have all this fancy new technology to help us, especially when we seem to be busy all the time. 


I wrote the script for this yesterday on Labor Day. I was pretty busy all day working on various things, but the one thing I noticed more than anything else was that it was especially easy yesterday to focus on the tasks at hand. It was noticeably different, noticeably easy to focus. 


My normal day job has a number of meetings every day. It generally ranges from two to six every day. Then there's a constant influx of email, and then there's the teams chats. Of course, life wouldn't be complete without a discussion or two going on in real time in another window on your desktop.


You always have to be scanning them to see if somebody asked you a question that you didn't notice. But on Monday, there was nothing. I got three emails the whole day. There were zero team messages. All the meetings were canceled, and I sat down and banged out over six solid hours of detailed work that normally would've taken me a few days.


What happened? I was able to focus on the task at hand, and because of that, my mind was allowed to fully commit to working through a particular set of problems instead of constantly being interrupted. The difference was astounding. It's been a couple of years since I was able to have a day like this.


Then I started to think. Am I allowing that same sort of constant interruption and distraction in other areas of my life as well? When I start to read or practice music, or even eat, am I totally in the moment, or is my life still filled with interruptions? 


Perhaps it's even me interrupting myself. I'm my own worst enemy, and part of it is that I'm a free thinker in a lot of ways. My mind wanders incessantly. It often brings some really good results, and it gives me some great skills in many areas, but I'm not known for my ability to focus on a single topic. 


Even beyond that, as technology has come more and more into our lives, I've found that I often abandon techniques that I used to use that work for me, such as writing down all these little paper notes, and I haven't really found a good way to replace them yet. But I'm changing that. Yesterday, I made a real effort to stay focused, and put all the side thoughts into an email note, which I entered by voice transcription. It was very quick, and then I sent that to myself.


I had one of my more productive days in quite some time because of that. But it also made me realize how my focus on all the important things in life had been kind of slipping away, little by little, with barely any perceptible notice, until it seemed I could get almost nothing done in my life. We've talked about this before, how our modern world is purposely designed to distract us, often for someone else's profit. 


A few weeks back I modified my morning routine, and now I just skip over most of my emails in the morning. I just mark them as read and they're done for the day. I still get them, because sometimes they have something useful, but if it isn't in the title of the first one or two lines that I can see on the summary, then I just miss it.


By just doing that, I've  picked up about 15 minutes in my morning. I narrowed it down even further today by only doing things that were in my planned routine or on one of my lists. So not only am I taking anything that comes in and immediately setting it aside if they're not on my list for today, they just don't happen. Any new tasks and distractions are added to some future list, and I'll deal with them at some time in the future.


One of the neat effects of doing this is I cleared up enough focus. I remembered some prior tasks that were actually pretty important that had gotten set aside for which now I was able to actually get them finished last night.


But what does this have to do with you? I suspect that if you really start looking at your day, you may discover that in some areas, you have become a much more reactive person, when before you used to be a very proactive person. It can happen very slowly, always for seemingly good reasons, but all of a sudden you realize that most of your day was spent responding to the things that weren't on any of your to-do lists. Maybe they weren't even all that important. Yet, somehow they seem to become a priority. 


Another change I have is I rarely buy anything until about a week after I first think of it.In that intervening week, I take note of how many times I think of it again, and if I don't have it, does it really affect my ability to get things done? It's amazing how many times something that seemed potentially useful was easily worked around and didn't need to be gotten at all.


I just decide the whole chore really isn't worth the investment at that moment. I was looking at my lawn this weekend. I did a bunch of lawn work this past weekend. It's my natural exercise program and I thought that I could really use a lawn dethatcher. Does my lawn need work? Oh, absolutely. Does it need $140 machine to do it? Not necessarily. Do I need to do it right now? Definitely not. 


There are likely to be sales on lawn equipment in another few weeks when summer's over. Purchase avoided, not even being considered. I'll look at it in a few weeks. If it's relevant, then we'll decide then. If not, I'll go out and rake it with a rake. It's all part of the same instant gratification, immediate attention syndrome, and since it's based on real needs, it's easy to let it get out of control. When a little task pops into your consciousness, the very first thought should be, Does this have to be done right now?


If not, put it into a future time bucket. Write it down, get it out of your head, and get back to the task at hand. If the sale ends tomorrow, but it's something you weren't really that interested in getting, then why even let the thought get a foothold in your mind?


You didn't need a matching set of Elvis salt and pepper shakers three minutes ago. Who cares if this is the only time they'll be on sale before Christmas? But that's the sort of thing you get all the time. While that's an obvious example, we're all bombarded daily via email, social media chats, and the news, with things that are presented as critically important. They're not really important at all, but our brain tricks us into thinking that by acting immediately, we are living in the moment when in reality the focus of the moment should be what we were already working on.


The distractions are exactly the things that we should be putting aside, irrespective of all the marketing and advertising pressure that's being applied. If you've gotten to the point where the days just seem to be flying by, but nothing seems to be getting done, I recommend that you slow down and really look at where some of your time is going.


If at all possible, try scheduling a day or two each week with zero distractions, even if it's just for part of the day. Yes, it's difficult. Yes, you want to talk to whomever's trying to reach you, but in the bad old days when you left the house for work or a trip to the park, you were out of touch and focusing on whatever was right in front of you. Naturally you weren't getting real time updates on someone's soccer game or how the new significant other was working out for your new friend. You did that as a separate task when you were back home, near a phone, and if you didn't hear about it today, then you found out about it tomorrow.


Most things don't have to be done instantly, and when you lived that way, life went on and actually it went on quite calmly. I'm not saying to totally isolate yourself. I am suggesting that you look at the quality of many of the interruptions you get each day and evaluate them as to whether they're moving you closer to or further from your true goals.


If it's fun to hear about the kids' game, is it more important than making sure your medical records are received by your specialist today? In reality, probably not. Is instant gratification fun for everyone? Of course it is. But does teaching delayed gratification build a much stronger person with a much better ability to work towards long-term goals? Absolutely it does. 


You really do have the ability to regain focus in your day while still managing modern days of constant interruptions, and while still being available when needed. Your ability to focus will help bring clarity to prioritizing the tasks that you have to complete, and that will tend to give you more time so life isn't always rushing by. Interestingly enough, you'll actually have more time, not less, for the important things in your life. 


To summarize, if you find yourself constantly distracted from what is important, and life seems to be flying by without getting anything accomplished, perhaps it's time to stop being tricked into living a reactive life, and instead, become more mindful of what's truly important. Postponing the distractions by adding them to a to-do list, just getting them out of your mind, and really live a life with a purpose and focus on the truly important things aligned with your goals.


So that's it for the evening. I hope you're able to push the needless distractions aside to make room for the great ideas that you have in your head, and you're able to slow life down, and focus on that which is truly important to you. Your homework (always optional) is to purposely be aware when some side task comes into your day that you reflexively start to take care of, and instead just add it to the to-do list. Extra points If you also think about how to do a quick evaluation of that distraction to see if it's even worth keeping track of, or if it's just a reaction to some clever marketing.


So that's it for the evening. Here's the link to the website with links to send donations to Ukraine. UKR7.com.  There's also a link to the World Central Kitchen WCK.org. 


As we talk about often, one of the best ways to care for yourself is to care for others. When you help others, you stop looking inside yourself at your problems and look outside and see all the other people and their problems. It helps you live a much bigger life in being more in tune with those around you. So if you're can and you're able, please find some way to help somebody in some way. 


As always, thank you for stopping by. If you found something interesting or useful, please pass it along and please hit that like button. If not, please drop me a comment as to what you'd like to hear. Have a great week. Remember to live the life that you dreamed of, because that's the path to true contentment. Love and encouragement to everyone. See you next week on 7EveryMinute and 7EveryMinute.com. Thank you.


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