Driven to Distraction

By: Jeff Mortimore, RSI Community Connector

I knew that staying home would be a real paradigm shift; adopting new technology, applying new routines and rituals, and most challenging of all, the lack of social connection. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the devils of distraction and shiny objects that can take me away with a moment’s notice. For example, sitting in my office and gazing out at the diminishing glacier that used to be my yard, I notice something. The lawn is starting to show, and with it comes the stark reality of the amount of dog waste that has accumulated over the winter. Inevitably, I choose to react before the little piles begin to thaw, and hopefully before my neighbor sees me! It’s dirty business, but it’s done and I’m back on track…until the next thing.

Maybe it’s the constantly changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, maybe it’s because I suddenly have more time than projects, or maybe it’s just that I’m not used to wearing pajamas until noon. Either way, it’s been a tough two weeks of adjustment. My mind tends to wander and then focuses on things like survival, stock market alerts, and public health announcements that are delivered daily by the local news. Behavioral economists refer to “uncertainty aversion” when we’re drawn to things we know and understand, a preference toward known risks versus the unknown. And that’s why, when faced with the radical uncertainty of a spreading virus, we naturally feel such extreme discomfort. Mind-wandering leaves us mentally time traveling into an imaginary future throughout the day. However, I’m here to offer hope and support, as I am now running out of distractions. Here are some of my newfound tactics:

Implement a self-care morning routine. Avoid the distraction of rushing to check on emails or stock reports, they will be there! I’m not typically a morning person, but it’s important to begin each day with positivity, it’s crucial to your productivity. My wife likes to run at 5:30 every morning, but that’s a little too much for me. I’ll settle for a walking meditation with the dog and then dive slowly into reading positive affirmations….the key being to move slowly. If you can carve out an exercise routine, that’s great! You now have your heart rate up, and blood flow brings all sorts of physical and mental benefits.

1) Create a schedule that includes two or three achievable goals. I like goals, but now that I have a more open schedule, it’s easy to cram a lot of content into the schedule. Or worse, get so overwhelmed, that other inane activities (like cleaning up after the dog) seem more achievable. Setting achievable goals sets you up for success, and nothing is worse than having an open landscape and with nothing to show for it. Achieving goals is also a springboard to other productive habits.

2) Avoid television and household chores during the day. Trust me on this one, I’ve learned the hard way. You’ve heard my story about my dog’s lawn ornaments, but I seem to have left out reorganizing the garage, raking the snow mold off the lawn, and rearranging the spice cabinet. As for television, I began the first week of shutdown by serving my lunch during the pandemic team’s daily conference. I just wanted to stay informed, but it ultimately led to little wanderings to ESPN or The Ellen Show. One thing always seems to lead to another. Research shows that quickly switching gears from one area to the next is a huge productivity killer. Same goes with multi-tasking, something always suffers.

3) Avoiding distraction requires a special kind of discipline. This is a really chaotic time, and I’ve often said to myself and others, “it’s okay to not be okay.” And for those of us interested in maximizing focus and productivity, this will mean employing radical and innovative measures to ensure that we stay focused on what matters most, our highest priorities. Right here, right now. May the focus be with you.

Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.