A question oft asked of people is “Do you find it hard to focus on what you need to get done?” A better question, which arguably leads straight to a workable solution, is “How easily do you get distracted?”
This morning I was in m’shed, exercising on my rather well-used, former clothes-hanging spin bike. Not one of those silly and over-priced but gadget-rich Peloton thingies. Just your basic £125, Chinese model with a read-out that shed damp has left barely legible, but useable in a pinch. The other advantage of this equipment is that rather than watching other, fitter people outride me, I can use an old Samsung tablet (other tablets are available) to watch YouTube videos. I watch personal development stuff and debates, but on Sunday and Monday mornings (if I’m not on my real bike) I watch Match of the Day. Which sounds bad but it means I do well over an hour on those mornings.
(Get to the point.)
Today’s video addressed the aforementioned question, and as I rode I realised the presenter was right because while I was focused on him, I suddenly noticed that a shed slat had been dislodged and risked admitting water if it rained. So having seen that problem I became concerned that, pedalling furiously as I was, I had nowhere to write down that I needed to address it, which made me think I should download a To Do app to the tablet, which I subsequently found I couldn’t do because the tablet was so old, so I had to go on-line and create an Internet bookmark so that I could note such things down as they came to mind. (And breathe.)
Then I found myself wondering what the presenter had said while I was thinking all that.
He was right. You could be thinking you are really ‘in the moment’ and suddenly something comes to mind which distracts you and fuzzes your focus on what you should be doing. And now you’re thinking about two things, which easily leads to three or more, and this is when you think you can’t cope. *
There is an answer, and it is implied in that long paragraph.
It is to pause, make a note of what distracted you and needs future attention, and then return to the task at hand.
Yes, it IS that simple. Me, I use the aforementioned To Do app (Microsoft’s, to be precise – other To Do apps blah blah blah). Something enters my mind that I can’t do anything about in two minutes or less, I put it on an appropriate list on my mobile phone or tablet (as they cross-pollinate), and check back in when I don’t need to be as focused.
This is the basis of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s so mind-bogglingly simple, yet few people think of doing that.
In my case, my To Do Lists include At Computer (things to do when I need a computer); Book Stories that pop into my head (to go into my policing autobiography); Errands (for shopping and other out of home tasks); and Waiting For (a list of things I am, er, waiting for). If I am doing Thing One and Thing Two pops up, Thing Two immediately gets put onto the appropriate list and I resume Thing One. (Not Allen – Seuss.)
If you apply this method, as described in a lot more detail in my book Police Time Management, you can keep your mind clear and focused on the Now, secure in the knowledge that any interrupting thought has had enough of your valuable attention and will get acted upon when you can do something meaningful about it, and not before.
You can’t avoid distractions if you have an active brain. But you can redirect that distraction if you adopt a method that puts it back under your control.
Read my book or Allen’s. They’re both good, but mine is cheaper.
(*Reminds me of my first CID days, when we were dealing on the street with an alleged abduction. A local youth kept interfering and distracting us. Eventually I decided it was quicker to arrest him than try and convince him to go hence. More paperwork, but once he was in the van we could focus on the kidnap.)