Out of curiosity, I took a few moments to observe.
Within a 10 minute span, the microwave beeped signaling my coffee was reheated, the sound of racing motorcycles came from a video playing on my husbands phone in the other room, my daughter laughed at her webtoon, a newsflash alert notification came from my phone, a group text stream chirped with responses, multiple email notifications came in from 2 different email accounts on my computer and my phone, texts about sales from Lucky and Levis appeared, my phone rang with an unknown number, our dog barked, the delivery truck beeped and a knock at the door confirmed an Amazon delivery, wind blew the chimes outside, a 5 minute notification for a meeting was audible and appeared, Slack sounded on multiple channels, I heard “Mommy can you help me - I’m running late!”, an unfinished podcast started playing where I left off as I put my earbuds in, I joined a Zoom, muted my mic and ran out of the room to put a Cliff bar in my daughter’s backpack, ran back into my office, turned my camera and mic on and said, “Good Morning!”
Even as I write this reflection, I find myself holding my breath. I didn’t even capture what this looks like while in a meeting or on a call or presenting. It’s basically all of that minus a few things while running a call, meeting, or presentation. We are all fitting as much as we can into every minute. Every person reading this is saying yes, I know, AND most likely could add 10-20 more things that may occur for them in that same amount of time. We all struggle with where to focus our energy when our attention is being pulled in so many different directions. I have become much more aware of the things pulling my attention and I continue to work on bringing my awareness to those moments when I just respond or engage without thinking about it. The noises and distractions will continue to be there. We cannot eliminate those unless we quit our jobs, give up technology entirely, and move to a remote location with minimal human interaction. That’s just not realistic for the majority of us.
First, there are all kinds of tools, both digital and analog, and strategies that you can implement to minimize distractions and help you focus. Ultimately it comes down to planning, organizing, and really deciding where and how you want to structure and focus your time and energy.
In Yoga and in Buddhism, there is a focus on being conscious of what is in and around you. The sounds and smells, and what you sense and feel inside and outside of your body. The work is to have awareness and to notice the distractions and influences without necessarily engaging with them. I love the connected concept of “letting it all wash over you.” This is lifelong work, but I believe that we can learn and apply this to scenarios like the one I described in that 10-minute window. We can hear the chimes, knocks, and beeps and notice them, be aware of them, and tune into them without engaging. In that awareness, you then choose where to focus your attention and let the rest wash over you.
I am constantly aware of when participants in meetings become distracted by Slack or a text. It’s disruptive and everything shifts and momentum ends. I’ve seen people stop mid-sentence and start typing a response while the others wait in silence for them to come back to the meeting. Sure, emergencies happen and sometimes there are scenarios that require you to be on standby or alert, but most of the time the attention deficit is self-inflicted. We must take charge of ourselves and our decisions to respond and engage. That’s on me and that’s on you. Try observing and reflecting on your environment and capture what you notice about your auto responses and when you intentionally engage. It’s ok! Don’t beat yourself up. That’s not productive. Are you willing to tune in to tune out?