Posts Tagged ‘distractions’

Presence: It seems like a no brainer; aren’t we always present wherever we go? Actually, it’s rare that we are present, in the moment, with our full attention on the individual, the group or task in front of us. Opportunities to have distractions pop up and take our attention away from what we are intending to be attending to.

Cell phones, emails, texts, phones, people passing by our office or cubicle – these are the some of the external distractions; what about the thoughts, emotions and body sensations that also pull us off course; the emotions, stress, anger and fatigue; or worries about money, partners, friends and family; hunger – isn’t it time for a snack break?

The Dilemma

Choice-making is occurring – we are choosing to choose what to be present to. So, what has us choose to choose what we choose? We can be present when we want to be – like when playing a video game, or to the quick perky tune that lets us know someone has just texted; in a sense we are present to our distractions – always alert to their call. What are we committed to that allows for our presence to be usurped by distractions? Maybe it would be more helpful if we turn the question around and ask it this way: What allows us to be so present to distractions? What is so compelling about the sound of a text coming in or the footsteps of a passerby? What are we committed to that has us so available to distractions?

My curiosity has me explore some possibilities:

  1. When someone calls me or wants my attention, I feel important, wanted and needed.
  2. There’s something missing that distractions provide.
  3. Sometimes I’m stuck or challenged and frustrated with the task at hand. I want a distraction to take me out of my misery.
  4. If I’m fully present in the moment I might miss out on something.
  5. I don’t like what I’m doing, I don’t care what I’m doing  and I’d rather be doing anything else but this!

If we choose to interpret our work or work environment as boring and lacks stimulation, or if we enjoy the tiny but mighty shots of adrenaline that arrives with each text, email or phone call, or if we are overstressed by what’s in front of us, most likely we will allow ourselves to invite in what is otherwise missing. We are then committed to relieving stress, boredom and the mundaneness of our environment.

I believe, generally speaking that we think that the state of presence occurs only in the physical world we call reality; but the fact is that presence has an energetic component that fuels, inspires, propels and provides momentum to relationship, connection and fulfillment of our intended outcome. By not presencing ourselves we are not maximizing the fullest expression of our intention to make a difference.

Consider a Practice of Presencing

What’s required of you to be fully present? I suggest we do it all the time – selectively choose to be present to what we choose to be present to.

Here are 5 steps to practice presencing:

  1. Intention: The intention to be present has to be in place.
  2. Focus: The practice of focusing is required.
  3. Willingness: The willingness to exercise the muscles that distinguish to what you bring your focus and attention.
  4. Noticing: The ability to notice or witness what is occurring while you are practicing presence; what’s showing up? What feelings, thoughts and body sensations arise while practicing? By noticing, you become aware of what generally pulls away from being present.
  5. Mindfulness: Assessing what’s valuable and available through the practice of presencing. There is a degree of mindfulness that is required in any practice such as this. A practice in mindfulness is in itself a practice of presencing.

Presencing is a discipline to be practiced, first as an experiment and then perhaps because there is actual fulfillment experienced by being present. What’s it like when you are fully present – what’s the quality of the experience? What is available to you when you are fully present, as opposed to answering texts while listening to your direct reports talk about the challenges they face?

My work as a life and business coach requires 100% attention to every word and action taken by my client. I cannot afford to be present to anything that distracts me from fulfilling my intention to empower them. In a matter of seconds, my work can become sloppy and haphazard when out of the state of presence. I miss something and my effectiveness goes down the toilet; I’m not committed to that!

The question then is, what would have to be here, now that is compelling enough to turn off cell phones, emails, internet – everything that isn’t serving this moment and being present? I ask you to seriously consider asking the question for yourself, for most likely the degree to which you bring presence to your work is the same degree to which you presence yourself with your partner, your children, and to any other aspect of your life.

My client, Jeremy, when home from work would continually be distracted by emails and texts from his boss. He was constantly on alert to his boss’s every need. Through our conversations he realized that his concern and worry about what his boss thought of him was a priority over what his wife and children thought about him and a priority over his own enjoyment of his personal time. He realized too he couldn’t allow himself to be present and enjoy his family as long as his sense of value and importance was coming from outside himself. He began to practice being present at work and at home and found a whole new perspective from which to be most aligned with his highest truth, his integrity and his vision as a human being. A small practice with a gigantic benefit.

You will not finish reading this post.

Its in the statistics.

You will not make it to the end of this article without being distracted…

The true scarce resource of humanity: Attention

Nicolas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains”, says that it is extremely hard to manage attention.   We will get distracted before the 3 minutes that it will take to read this post.  This problem is growing as distractions multiply exponentially in our always-connected, web 2.0 world.

I look around me now as I travel on the underground train (the “tube”) through London today.  I see the person sitting across from me reading a newspaper, white ipod headphones in her ears and sms-ing on what looks like an Android touch screen phone.  She is receiving stimulus from the world, mainlining stimulus through all senses, maxing out on input.  I look up and around the carriage.  Everybody has a mobile out and sending and receiving electronic updates.  It is so very easy to pass through life in constant reaction to stimulus.

Distractions are Costly

“Distractions are costly: A temporary shift in attention from one task to another – stopping to answer an e-mail or take a phone call, for instance – increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25%, a phenomenon known as “switching time”. It’s far more efficient to fully focus for 90 to 120 minutes, take a true break, and then fully focus on the next activity.”  Tony Schwartz, Manage your energy, not your time – Harvard Business Review.

The evidence from psychology is clear.  Interruptions have a major detrimental effect on your productivity.  School does not have classes on focus, on cutting out the email, facebook, twitter, mobile phone calls and concentrating for extended periods on something driven by me, something that is not a reaction to a tweet or a status update or a call.  This is a skill that you need to decide to learn for yourself.

There are times for distractions

There are times when letting the distractions in can be fun and necessary.  Total focus is not a state that you will want to spend all of your time in.  Responding to email, being aware of the action around you, twitter, facebook are part of being connected to the world around you.  However, in order to move beyond a permanent zombified state of reaction to incoming stimuli, you must develop the ability to create windows of focus in your life, where you really dedicate your attention for a specific time to one important task.

The ability to focus is something that great leaders and those that make a positive, lasting difference in this world need.

How do I improve my ability to focus?

Here are 10 ways of improving your ability to focus:

  1. Decide it is important – nobody else can do it for you.  Begin with small steps, your ability to focus will grow with practice.
  2. Cut out Obvious Distractions – Close down email, browser; clear your desk; get a glass of water.  Jim Collins talks about creating non-stimulus time.  He does not allow any electronic device in the same room as him before midday.  Start small. Do just 10 minutes today removing sources of distraction and focussing on one important task.
  3. Write things downReflective writing gives 3 powerful benefits:
    • Mindfulness
    • Improves clear thinking and
    • Allows perspective
  4. Set a timer – use the Pomodoro technique.  Set a timer for 10 minutes and do not let yourself stop working on the one task until the timer finishes.  Attention fitness takes time to grow, do less than you think you are capable of and accept that your capacity to focus will grow with time. Meditating Buddhist monks take 30 years before they are able to calm the flow of noise in their head and reach total focus.  Don’t get frustrated early on.  It will take time to grow your capacity to focus.  Like self discipline, focus grows with use.  Train like athletes preparing for a marathon: add 10% per week.
  5. Divide Actionable from non-Actionable itemsScott Belsky of Behance says that an actionable task starts with an action verb: “call A”, “buy a gift for B”, “follow up contract with C”.
  6. Take proper breaks. When you finish with your focus time, get up from your work area and really take a break.  Stretch, take a short walk, go outside and be with nature.  Opening a browser window and reading news or email is not a real break.
  7. Anticipate your physical needs. Go to the bathroom before you start your focus time.  Get a drink of water and put it on the table.  Make sure your chair is comfortable.
  8. Use Music – Listening to music helps me focus and cut out other distractions.
  9. Reward yourself. Celebrate small successes.  Eat some chocolate when you finish an important task.  Have a coffee only when you finish another 10 minutes of total focus.
  10. Do what Nike says – “Just Do It”.  Don’t let your resistance win.  When I start writing, I will not stop until I have written 500 words.  If I have to, I will write “I will keep writing, I will keep writing” until another idea comes to mind…  but I will not let myself stop.  Repeated practice has reduced the little voices in my head that say “why are you doing this?  Who is going to read this?  Who are you to be writing this stuff?”

You made it here?  3 minutes of attention?  That puts you in the small percentage of people who have found strategies to manage their attention in the overwhelming swarm of distractions that make up a typical life in the modern world.

The Origin of Leaders series

This series of posts has now looked at 6 of the powerful keys to unlocking leadership in your life and in the communities which matter to you:

In the next post I will start to look outside to how you affect those around you and scale and magnify the changes you wish to effect in the world

A recent article in NYT  talked about how kids are wired for distraction by always being online . Every Gadget they use is connected to the internet and the kids are always distracted.  Thinking about this, I thought it is not just the kids even we grown-ups do this.

The next time you see someone with an iphone, you can see every few minutes, he checks his email or something on the iphone. Yes, these gadgets are distractions, but there is a deep underlying problem than this.

Each one of us wants distractions and these tools are just another avenue for our distractions.  We want distractions because we want to escape from things which are bothering us like laundry, doing the vacuum, taking the kids out, unfinished work at office etc.  We all know that the easiest way is to go head-on with what is bothering us and resolve it, but the great majority of us flee and engage ourselves in distractions. So, how do we fix this?

Next time, you feel anxious and want to go for a distraction, notice it and then take on positive distractions like watching a movie or a funny video and once done, sit quietly with a paper and pen (ok, iphone is fine, too) and write down what bothers you. Most of the time, it is just some unfinished tasks,  Next to the task write down what will be the next clear step you will take to resolve this. Resolve to look at it on a certain day. When that day comes, look at your list and take action. That’s it.  You can do this mentally too but writing down seems to be effective, since when the bothering thought comes to your mind, you can remind yourself that you have already written it down and will take action on the appointed day.

Choose to face the problem and use the time previously used for distractions for more enjoyable tasks.