Posts Tagged ‘Distractions’

Jeff mini-marathon A 4-26-2008

Me running the KY Derby Festival half-marathon, 2008

Last week I saw a clip on America’s Funniest Videos that showed a little girl walking along looking behind her at something. The Dad was saying “Watch where you’re going” but, of course, the girl didn’t look ahead and consequently toppled to the ground when she fell over a toy. She got back up and proceeded to do the very same thing again – walking forward while looking backward as the Dad again said “Watch where you’re going!” Sure enough, she fell down when she tripped over the next toy.

Kids are prone to doing that. We’ve all observed it. The problem is that we as adults are also a little too prone to looking behind us in life so much that we miss the target of where we should be heading.

Here are some ways we trip ourselves up by failing to run the race before us:

  • We spend too much time worrying about things in the past that cannot be changed.
  • We fail to set goals for the future.
  • We allow others to determine what races consume our time.
  • We look behind us too often to see if others are gaining on us, more concerned about beating them than just doing our best.
  • We run off course because we tend to devote our energy to whatever direction we’re facing, whether or not it’s the right direction.
  • We lose focus on what is most important by allowing constant detours and distractions to interrupt forward progress.
  • We try to maintain a status quo or even live in the past, thereby assuring ourselves of never really finishing any race, preferring maintenance to progress.

It’s right and good to know where we have been, to know our past and to learn from it. But it is woefully inadequate as a human being with a wealth of potential to fail to enter, compete, and complete ambitious life races that can bring meaning to our lives and to the lives of others.

I encourage you to make sure that there is a clear race before you, to keep your focus on that path, and to run the race before you – not the one behind you.

Sticky Note ListIn the unending challenge to juggle more things to do than time to do it, I tried something different this week.  I always work with short to-do lists, but this week I tried a different tactic.  I kept open in a window in front of me on my computer a simple prioritized list using the Windows Sticky Notes program, and determined to tackle the items in order, getting as many done during the work day as possible, then setting up the list for the next day before leaving work.  That’s basic to-do list management – nothing new or special.

I’ve used Outlook’s task list for a long while, but the problem is that so much time in Outlook is spent in the inbox or calendar that the task list can get lost in the competition for attention.  Sticky Notes allowed me to keep another window prominent throughout the day as a reminder.  (The fact that I used Sticky Notes is irrelevant.  A simple list in any program will do.)

However, since a crazy quantity of incoming emails usually distracts me from getting as many to-do list items completed as I should, I also made an item on the daily to-do list of spending just one hour cleaning up emails.  I limited time in my inbox to that hour daily this week.  If I was to actually take the time to handle all the emails that have come in to my inbox the past few days, it would take several hours per day of my time to address them.  The problem with doing that is that spending so much time handling emails keeps me from doing the more important work that I’m really hired to do and must do in order to make my greatest impact.

Here is a key lesson: Email is a to-do list that others create for you.

We can’t allow others to create our to-do lists.  We must make them ourselves and not let others change them.  Of course, those we report to always have the option of mandating a change in our priorities; that’s understood.  But especially for information workers in an environment where interruptions are frequent, we must set up some boundaries and processes that help us keep the focus on doing the most important things.

Have I accomplished everything requested by others this week with this approach?  No, I haven’t.  But I’ve completed some very important items that have been on my to-do list for too long, and that were previously shoved aside by spending too much time on email.  My inbox has consequently swollen in size as I write this, growing daily as unexpected items come in that others want my help with or feedback regarding.  Sadly, most of those will have to wait.  I intend to keep on getting the big-ticket important things done, devoting no more than one hour per day to responding to the other kinds of emails.  I suspect the world won’t end, even though some sending those emails may think it will.  Ultimately, I know it will take an additional body on my team to do everything that is expected of me, so I have to get the important things done first and let the rest slide.

Bottom line: don’t let others create your to-do list or divert you from the one you’ve created.

Don't Lose SightTwo months ago I wrote down the three words that serve as this post’s title: Don’t Lose Sight.  I do things like that occasionally when a random thought comes to mind that might serve as the basis for a future blog post.  Then I let it simmer for as long as necessary until it’s fully cooked in my mind and it’s time to pull it out of the oven.  This one has simmered long enough.

Unless you are in the most simple and casual of environments and lifestyles, chances are fairly good that you have many things clamoring for your attention.  Between work, family, other relationships, basic survival, education, entertainment, hopes, volunteerism, taking care of material possessions, discovering and living out one’s perceived purpose in life, and who knows what else, most of us do not lack for ways to invest the 24 hours we are given daily.  In fact, many are challenged to decide what doesn’t get done on a long to-do list.  What are the mandatory tasks versus items that will have to remain on the wish list?

When so many competing tasks vie for our attention, it is frighteningly easy to get distracted and off course.  It is simple to lose sight of the goal, of those things which are most important, and to wander off in some other attractive direction until we look up one day and realize we are no longer remotely close to heading in the direction we set out to follow.

When I consider the competing opportunities for involvement in my life, I am on one hand blessed to have so many interests and opportunities and ways that bring joy and gladness.  On the other hand, there are more of those available than time and physical limitations allow, so I must constantly prioritize and say “no” to some things that I’d really like to do.

The biggest single consumer of my time is my work, understandably, and that won’t change.  Still, I strive to limit it to the 50+ hours per week I average, even though there is always much more to do.  I set ambitious goals at the start of the year about reading and blogging and exercise and living out my faith – goals that at a high level exist to strike a healthy balance between body, mind and spirit.  Here at the mid-February point, I’m a little behind in some of those goals, so the challenge is not to stress about them, but to bite off daily what is reasonable and carry on without such goals becoming a burden that weighs me down and has the opposite effect from what is intended.  At least I know the answer should someone ask me to take on more right now: the answer is a resounding “no” until something else comes off my calendar.

Being busy does not guarantee that one is doing things that are meaningful and worthwhile.  Being busy may impress some onlookers, but it probably doesn’t impress the family member who feels neglected, the coworkers who aren’t seeing the results needed for the team, the neighbors or friends or passersby who feel invisible due to your lack of acknowledgement and attention, those in your community of faith who see you burning a candle at both ends but who don’t see much lasting light and warmth from your efforts, or the God who gave us life and is waiting for the time, worship and attention He deserves.

Being busy is tiring.  It is wrong to equate busyness with fulfillment or effectiveness.  It is better to do a few things really well than to do a mediocre job on many tasks.  It takes discipline and guts and wisdom to learn to say “no” to some things so that you can say “yes” to the most important ones, and do them well.  That is an ongoing learning experience for me that I don’t expect to master once and for all this side of heaven.

So what do I need to do?  I need to think daily about what is most important – not just what appears to be urgent.  I need to remind myself of my core values and principles and act accordingly.  I need to take positive action daily to live out those priorities and be willing to say “no” to opportunities that would be a distraction, be they pleasant and desirable or not.  I need to keep focused on the primary goal, on the prize.  Perhaps the same is true for you as well.

Don’t lose sight.

Top 10 ListBelow are the most viewed posts on this blog during 2012.  If you missed one of them or have long since forgotten what it was about, check it out.  Most are quick lessons learned of 366 words or less (the exceptions being #2 and #9 – both posts from 2011 that still were among the most viewed in 2012).

1. Be There: Giving full attention to the people you are with and not being distracted by technology or anything else.

2. Trust: The importance of trust between people, and implications if trust is broken, especially in relationships at work.

3. Sometimes All It Takes Is 20 Seconds: Inspired by the movie We Bought a Zoo, thoughts about how 20 seconds of insane courage can change your life.

4. Companies Need Customer Service Like Granny Provides: Based on my regular experiences with a sweet, old lady when I donate blood at the Red Cross, this is what customer service should be like.

5. You Need Someone At Work To Relate To: Being the only person at your business doing your type of work can be very lonely.  Having one other person to relate to can help tremendously.

6. Kisses Are Priceless: From Valentine’s Day, 2012, read about two unexpected kisses, how they made my day and why kisses are priceless.

7. Exhaustion Can Hurt So Good: After an extreme Muddy Fanatic race with good friends, the mind and spirit can be so satisfied even if the body is spent.

8. Don’t Pre-Judge: Whether dealing with people or animals, you can easily make wrong assumptions and treat others differently if you pre-judge them.

9. More Questions Than Answers: Still-unanswered questions from 2011 regarding social learning and the use of social media in learning.

10. Evil Is Real, and So Is the Cure: Reflections following the tragic elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut from my Christian worldview.

Thanks to all the readers who made these the most read.  I look forward to seeing what interests you this year.

How do you stay grounded?  I just conducted a Google search on “staying grounded” that returned over 4.7 million results.  I suspect the phrase means wildly different things to different people, depending on the context.

For me, being grounded refers to first knowing who I am at my core – knowing what is most important to me – and then doing things that reinforce that foundation.  It is that second part of reinforcing that helps remind me of the knowing.

In one of my earliest lessons learned this year, I shared my framework for each day – the three words “ground,” stretch,” and “reflect.”  The idea is to begin each day grounded in who I am, stretch myself to excel beyond what is needed just to get by, and then reflect on the day’s experience by capturing a lesson learned for this blog.

While taking a week off work this week to stay home and read and write, I thought it was time for more intentional grounding.  To that end, several hours per day this week are devoted to reading various books of the Bible along with the study notes accompanying them in the ESV Study Bible.  If I consider my Christian faith to be the most important grounding aspect of my life, then it’s important that I spend some extended time – not just occasional, brief moments – in that which defines what it means to be Christian.

Last night I just finished reading the Gospel of Luke.  For the Christian, nothing grounds one more than being reminded of the full account of the life, death and resurrection of Christ as told by eyewitnesses and others from that day.  It has a way of cutting through the extraneous frill that so easily clutters our lives, and it drives home the basics of who we are, who God is, and what He has done for us that we could not do for ourselves.  It challenges us to put aside distractions that take us away from our life’s purpose.

I don’t know what you consider your core foundation or grounding to be, but whatever it is, I hope you take the time to regularly reinforce it.

Leap year lesson #254 is Stay grounded.