My family and I experienced a string of what we called distractions over the past couple of years.
Almost all were family or home-related issues, “These distractions are taking us away from getting our real work done!” my husband would complain.
At some point, I started to think about this in greater detail. What were these things that were frequently interfering with our daily schedules?
What resulted was an interesting journey indeed. Upon review, I began to realize that while some of the things that occurred did, in fact, constitute distractions, others felt bigger, and more important than the word distraction suggested. And so, in my usual way, I worked on some definitions (one of which will appear in tomorrow's post).
Distractions, as I define them, are things that create interruptions to our original plan by choice. That’s right, it is our choice as to whether or not we allow distractions to draw us away from other activities.
Here’s an example: After living in our current house for several years, we began to notice wear and tear on our back yard landscaping that was beyond our ability to resolve ourselves.
So we began interviewing prospective contractors, and then chose one to help us draft a preliminary plan. There were a lot of meetings, and some choices on materials that had to be made in order for the contractor to provide us with a bid for the work. All of these things took place during the day, and distracted us from doing what we ordinarily would have completed during that time.
But did we have to do it? No. While we wanted to have a plan in place in the event our back yard deteriorated to the point of having to take action quickly, we didn’t have to do it at that time, and, in fact, we could have chosen to pace our meetings out to a point where they wouldn’t have felt so demanding of our time.
And did we have to take these meetings during the day? No. We could have requested they take place in the evening, or on weekends. It was our choice to have them during the day so they wouldn’t interfere with family time.
But in the moment those meetings felt overwhelming, and as we had agreed to schedule them, we felt obligated to keep them, and to accommodate the requests of the contractor, who was keen on submitting a comprehensive plan and bid.
Two years later, and we still haven’t acted on those plans, so there clearly wasn’t any real urgency, but we had artificially created the sense that urgency existed.
Distractions can be sneaky.
What I found really interesting was how this and many other distractions seemed to take on a life of their own.
We allowed them to permeate our lives because we had an interest in gaining certainty around a specific question, and even though the question had nothing to do with our day-to-day responsibilities, we allowed it to take over these things, in part, because it was fun.
We might not have enjoyed the sense of overwhelm that occurred when we began feeling as though we weren’t accomplishing things that were of a higher priority. But because we hadn’t clearly determined what, in fact, our top priorities were, these side-activities eked their way to the top of the list without our noticing until our higher priorities began to suffer as a result.
What we can learn from distractions.
They are attracted to certain conditions.
This experience taught me that there are lessons to be learned from distractions. One of those is that we allow distractions to enter our lives when certain conditions are present:
What if we accept, instead of reject them?
Distractions serve many purposes, most of which we are unwilling to acknowledge.
It is difficult to accept that we could willingly allow something to detract us from our plans, because doing so might suggest we aren’t perfect. But we are human. So would accepting that we allowed ourselves to be distracted really be so bad?
As the saying goes, what we resist, persists. And to disregard the value of distractions, blaming them for our troubles, is just another way to ignore them and hope they go away.
Except instead of going away, even more tend to pop up. It’s as if they’re trying to tell us something, but because it feels like they’ve been strategically placed in our way to keep us from accomplishing our goals, we are usually unwilling to listen.
Instead, I propose we shift our perceptions of distractions, and embrace them as opportunities instead of labeling them as annoyances.
Here are some examples:
Warning! Intention is key!
Now for the caveat. While I propose that distractions can offer us insight into underlying issues for allowing them into our lives, and that embracing may be what is needed in order to resolve those issues, I must also offer some words of caution.
By embracing distractions we run the potential for them to dominate our time if we aren’t being intentional. Yep, there’s that word again.
I believe an unintentional approach to distractions is what leads to behavior we might consider scattered. Those of us who feel pulled in multiple directions, unable to complete a thought or sentence, surrounded by this cloud of phrenetic chaos. Always busy but accomplishing little.
Here are a few suggestions to minimize the risks:
Establishing boundaries around those distractions we are willing to let into our lives, and those we are not, will help minimize the risk of taking on too many, which could completely deter us from our focus.
Tomorrow’s post will include an exercise on how to identify our most important things, and what to do when competing priorities arise.
Could distractions indicate misalignment?
Last but not least, when we are in the midst of planning or undergoing a transition, allowing ourselves to be distracted could be an indicator that we are not completely aligned with our change.
This could suggest that something is not quite right or is missing. By paying attention to when distractions show up, and whether or not we are willing to take them on instead of focusing on the road ahead, we can then dig deeper into what we need to hop back in the driver’s seat and stay the course, rather than exiting at every roadside attraction.
Sometimes stopping at a wayside offers us the space we need to notice what is missing. But in order to allow for that to happen, we must remember to be intentional.
Otherwise, the distractions will likely increase, and we’ll eventually run out of gas along some back street of no particular importance.
Coming up next...
Tomorrow we’ll explore the world of disruptions; what they are, how they differ from distractions, and how to effectively manage them when they enter our lives.
About the Author
Megan Rounds, Ed.D. is owner and principle perculator of perculcha, llc.
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