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Valuable vs. Distracting: What Truly Matters in a World Full of Distractions

Valuable vs. Distracting: What Truly Matters in a World Full of Distractions

Jan 3, 2021

By: Roma G. Velasco

Lately, I have been thinking about my daily routine, habits, and how I have been managing my personal and professional life since we got hit by the global pandemic. I took advantage of some of the free time I got during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. One of the audiobooks that I finished was Indistractable by Nir Eyal. I thought to myself, this book/audiobook is a perfect end-of-year read.

 

As we set our goals and create plans for this year, it is important to look back at how our lives have been changed significantly in the past months. From working at home to homeschooling kids, increased daily distractions became part of all these changes.

 

Here are some of the things I want to highlight from Eyal’s book that resonated with me, and I hope you will find them useful, too:

 

 

Time Management is Pain Management

Are you using distraction to reduce or remove pain? According to Eyal, “All human behavior is driven by a desire to escape discomfort. That means that time management is pain management,” he says. “We need to understand the uncomfortable sensations we’re trying to escape when we reach for our cell phones or email accounts, then learn new techniques for managing that discomfort in a healthier manner.”

 

Think of the things and activities that you do which have increased recently. Did your social media consumption increase? Are you looking at your phone or checking your email more often? How much time do these activities take away from what is important in your life both at home and at work?

 

When we recognize and acknowledge our feelings and the “pain” or discomfort we are experiencing, we can reflect on the actions that we take to manage those feelings. We can ask ourselves, is this activity actually helping me manage my feelings? Or is it a form of escape?

Focus Absurd and Foolish Attention on Work to Find New Challenges You Have Not Seen Before

If you do not know by now that multitasking is impossible for humans, here is a reminder that multitasking only works for computers. We are not multitasking, we are task-switching. When you switch tasks, ask yourself, are you being productive or are you being distracted?

 

You may have found extra and/or new work recently that requires you to jump from one task to another, leaving you unable to focus on really important tasks. Or, you may have been stuck with the same tasks with a new twist, such as needing to use a different tool to complete some of your daily tasks.

 

It is important to find time to take a step back and reflect on the work you have done, both new and existing projects since the pandemic started. With the new normal, some projects and tasks that you have done in the past may require new ways to be completed. New ideas and new ways of thinking have to emerge to respond to the needs and demands of current times. So, if you are feeling less motivated, less creative, or less innovative, instead of adding more tasks to your list or distracting yourself with other things, how about looking at what you are currently working on and find ways to improve it, or to make it more engaging?

If We Don’t Plan Our Day, Someone Else Will

Calendar planning is a critical tool. I have always relied on my calendar as my daily guide to keep myself accountable for things I said I would do each day. Before the pandemic, it was quite effective and helped me avoid distractions. The next thing I know, we’re all working from home, which is both a blessing and a curse. Working from home allowed me the flexibility to work at any time of the day, even after regular work hours, and this caused my schedule to become a free-for-all. Even though my work calendar stayed in great shape, my personal calendar became arbitrary. After all the race events I signed up for got canceled and the gyms were temporarily closed, I had no reason to continue my physical training, and I didn’t bother blocking out any time for it. One day I suddenly realized that I had lost my “me time.”  

 

When summer arrived, I was fortunate enough to be able to set and meet some of my training goals by riding my bike outdoors. I blocked days on my calendar when I would ride my bike before sunrise so I could be back in time for my first meeting of the day. Once I put the time on my calendar, I was able to remain committed to my riding goal. As I always say, “If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist”. My goal is to commit to whatever I place on my calendar, especially if it’s “me time”.

 

At Integrated Work, we are encouraged to block time on our calendars for focused work and also make time slots available for quick internal meetings. If we don’t claim the focused time, we may not have time to write proposals, develop programs, or complete important, (but not necessarily urgent) projects.

 

A couple of reminders from Eyal’s book that resonate strongly with me when it comes to scheduling: “Does your calendar reflect your values?” and “Show up when you say you will!”

Make Time for Important Relationships

Other than my bi-weekly date nights that are recurring calendar events, I used to have a couple of days in a week dedicated as my rest day and my open day. Pre-COVID, I usually used my rest days and open days to find time to hang out with friends. Now that we have replaced in-person meetings with Zoom, it’s still important to make time for relationships. If you aren’t intentional about doing so, you may end up not having the time at all! The pandemic (and other major life changes) can make scheduling a bit challenging, but “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” right?

People Who are More Self-Compassionate Experience a Greater Sense of Well-Being

Now more than ever, self-compassion is important. As we reflect on our days, it is quite easy to criticize ourselves and others when we are faced with uncertainty, unmet needs, and when our safety and comfort are being challenged. It’s even worse when you consider all the distractions that we must navigate through or try to avoid. It doesn’t matter if the distraction is caused by us, or by others, they do not make it any easier to stay focused on the things that truly matter.

 

Yes, we are surrounded by distractions. It may sometimes be hard to focus on what is profoundly important. Expressing empathy towards ourselves and acknowledging the feelings that drive us to succumb to distractions is not only important, but can help us be more mindful, present, and thoughtful about how we will respond to distractions in the future, so we can focus on things that truly matter.

 

Here is a fun activity to do by yourself or with others:

  1. Make a list of things that you consider your major “distractions” and things that are important to you at home and at work.
  2. Look at your list and identify what distractions are preventing you from focusing on things that truly matter to you.
  3. Now, think of a way [or ways] you are going to respond to the distractions you have listed so you can focus on what really matters.

 

You may download and use this fillable PDF for this activity. Share it with your colleagues, family, and friends. Have fun and let us know your thoughts!