What’s on your distraction buffet?

What’s on your distraction buffet?

You probably have your favourite distractors—the time wasters that you find yourself engaging with when you know you should be doing something else.

In “Your Distraction Buffet” I mentioned that sometimes your distractors appear to be work or work related and in fact are not.  You spend time on them justifying that time by thinking that it fits (somewhere) into your grand ambition and you’ll need to do it eventually.  Why not now?

Camouflaged distractors

Work is the stuff that you’ve scheduled or planned; the stuff that moves you closer to your goals, or that you’ve committed to—to help someone else move closer to theirs.  Everything else is a distractor, many camouflaged to look like work.

Your job is to control the urge to look at silly cat videos until you schedule time for a break.

Of course, you’ll say, “That’s nice Petah but in real life you need to deal with emergencies.”   True, but while drop-everything emergencies do happen, you can reduce, or greatly reduce their occurrence.

If you spend 90% of your day dealing with unplanned emergencies, you certainly can’t be steering your ship.

You’re bailing.  Better than sinking, but not the stuff that will ever get you to win the race.

Photo by brionv
Photo by brionv

Your goal is to reduce the time spent bailing and increase the time spent navigating, steering and keeping your crew pumped up about winning.

Here are some common distractors to look out for—the ones most often camouflaged as work.

Low priority items

Low priority items like email, taking that phone call, reading articles etc., are particularly dangerous because they are so easily justified.  Often easy and even fun to do they pull you away from the heavy lifting required now.

It’s hard for many—including me—to defy the gravitational pull of the easy-unimportant, that article that’s even mildly interesting is preferable to working on that manuscript or office conflict that I know I should be dealing with NOW.

Covey placed these in the not urgent and not important categories.  They’re nice to have, nice to know but don’t really move you closer to your goals.

Funny how much time you can spend on evaluating the options out there to help you write a book, instead of well… writing that book.

Unimportant meetings

Despite their bad reputation meetings are vital for people to agree and coordinate action—to plan work.

However—for most of us—meetings are not work!

Work is the stuff you do when you leave meetings.  It’s great pretend work if you don’t intend on doing any, or a distractor if you just don’t want to deal.   Take care it’s not an habitual distractor.

Choosing to read now

This is a big one for me.  I’m writing a document, and in the search for information to complete it I come across an interesting webpage, email article etc. and I choose to read it then.  Distraction.  I lose focus, I lose momentum and it takes a while to get back to where I was in the document I was working on in the first place.

Don’t read them now.  Mark interesting emails unread, leave the articles open in a tab to return to later, or use a tool like instapaper.

Succumbing to your addictions

For many Facebook is an addiction.  Like putting chocolate in front of a chocoholic, having a Facebook tab open is just too much for some people.  Let’s just take a peek and a week of a month is lost.

For others it’s email.  Email addicts can’t help but constantly check to make sure they don’t miss anything.  Responding immediately—they mistakenly think—shows they’re on the ball.

Unless your job is social media, there’s no question that Facebook is a distractor, but email addicts are especially delusional because they think that they’re working when in fact they’re not.

They’re spreading their attention across multiple items by responding to every email as it comes in and not focussing on the one most important item they need to handle now.

Here’s the thing about email.  It’s like a tennis match.  When you reply to an email it’s like returning a serve.  What can you expect, they’ll reply to your reply and what you end up having is a slow motion conversation.

If it’s important and urgent pick up the phone now and resolve it.  If it’s important but not urgent, then schedule a time for a conversation to resolve it.  If it’s neither important nor urgent, then ignore it.  That’s right.  Don’t even respond to it and move on.

You can add instant messenger services and Twitter to this list of distractors.  If people are constantly checking these services they aren’t focussed on anything and therefore aren’t working.  At least not effectively.

Consciously choosing makes the difference

Many distractors only are distractions when they control when you do them.

Reading an article related to a project you’re working on is work when you’ve scheduled the time to read it—with attendant note taking facilities available—and a distractor when you read it on a whim.


Because when you read it on a whim, it’s most likely pulling you away from a higher priority item that you should be dealing with now.

What are your favourite distractors?

What are the things that look like work to you and aren’t …really?  Take some time to debrief at your day’s end and you might discover where that drip, drip, drip of productivity is leaking from your day.

Photo by come on with the rain, i’ve a smile on my face

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.