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Eco-friendly “Sorting-out-Your-Distractions” System

Distractions
After we've looked at the five categories of distractions, we must look somewhere else now: in the mirror.
| Mette Dencker | Issue 155 (Sep - Oct 2023)

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Eco-friendly “Sorting-out-Your-Distractions” System

In This Article

  • First, one must understand what key distractions are so that they can be managed and overcome to generate the best performance. If you get familiar with your distractions and know which box they belong to, fighting them is easier.
  • If you know the outside distractions, you have a simple choice: Should I move away from this or accept the distraction? You must know when to categorize this as a "nothing-I-can-do-about-it distraction” and move away if possible.
  • To do the eco-friendly "sorting out the distractions trash," you need a robust character—focused and grounded.

Before I started writing this, the distractions were standing in line to hit me in the face. I needed someplace quiet to reflect and write. Since I was far away from my home, a tourist in a city in the rural part of Denmark, I thought of a café, but all the conversations would distract me. So, I chose the best imaginable place:

A library.

It was spacious and beautiful. Besides the books arranged in the best order, it was also decorated with inspiring places to sit and relax. All the cozy places were colorful reflection spots designed in different shapes, from giant wide staircases to loveseats to big sitting chairs. It was a place that felt good.

Apparently, three different kindergartens in the city shared my opinion and admiration of the place. As I unfolded my computer, kids were running around, enjoying themselves in the beautiful reflection spots with soft pillows they threw around. It was an adventurous playground for them. I sat a bit away from them and tried to get some writing done.

Ten minutes later, three high school guys came in. Not to study but to enjoy a place to eat lunch while speaking loudly and crumpling their food paper. Suddenly the air alarm from World War 2 started. The one they used to warn people that they had to run to the protection rooms immediately. They test it once every year to see if it still works, and lucky me, it happened to be that very day. So there I was with a shattered illusion of a quiet library.

After considering all possible distractions, I’ve narrowed them down to five categories. Imagine them as if you're sorting your garbage. You are creating an eco-friendly system. Next time you meet a distraction, you know precisely which trash bin you must throw it in. But first, one must understand what key distractions are so that they can be managed and overcome to generate the best performance. If you get familiar with your distractions and know which box they belong to, fighting them is easier.

Here are my five categories of distractions:

  1. Clear outside distractions;
  2. Outside distractions which you can ignore or choose to be interrupted by;
  3. Bad planning distractions;
  4. Procrastination distractions, made by you alone; and
  5. The good distractions, the ones you need.

Let's dive into them and get to know them:

  1. Clear outside distractions

This is a distraction you can't do anything about except move away from it or stay and cope with it. The problem in the library was an apparent outside distraction—i.e., when something from the outside you have no control over gets in the way. Other examples of clear outside distractions are an unexpected bit of road work on your chosen route or, in the summer, when you find the perfect spot to tan and a crowd of mosquitos are there too. If you know the outside distractions, you have a simple choice: Should I move away from this or accept the distraction? You must know when to categorize this as a "nothing-I-can-do-about-it distraction” and move away if possible. The sooner you realize the distraction belongs in this category, the less annoyed you will get. As for me, I just moved away from the library and found another day and place to write.

  1. Outside distractions which you can ignore or choose to be interrupted by

This is the distraction your phone makes, such as notifications, text messages, and even calls. This is when people around you need your opinion or action, and you can choose to let them distract right now or say "later." This when you're on a diet and get distracted by the cake in the office. This is the one I experienced in the supermarket yesterday (and probably do every day): the temptation to buy something you don’t need, but it was on sale. However, yesterday it was different because I fought it. If I had just grabbed the cheap item on sale, I wouldn't even think of it as a distraction. It would all be subconsciously. However, because I'm in the process of focusing on the distractions, I'm aware of getting to know them. Distraction creates a lack of balance, and being grounded is the goal of combating distraction. Fighting it when it occurs is the first step towards a more grounded version of you.

  1. Bad planning distractions

As I was coaching a CEO, he told me of a project that failed because of unforeseen incidents. His plan contained a particular deadline and a certain amount of money. Then it turned out he had been too optimistic about his project because of unforeseen occurrences.

“What kind of unforeseen things?” I asked.

“One employer was pregnant and had to go on parental leave a few months after the project started, another one quit, two colleagues were sick for a combined three weeks during the project, and one supplier went bankrupt, and I had to find another supplier during the process,” he said.

“These were not distractions,” I said. "It's life. Having kids is common; people get sick and change jobs; and companies close daily. You've done lousy planning if you haven't incorporated life into your plan. I know it sounds harsh, but all the above is something you must base your budget and deadline on.”

What are distractions, and what is just bad planning? Most people call their own lousy planning “distractions” or “unforeseen events.” Even you and I do it with our finances. “This month, there have been so many unforeseen incidents. Two birthdays, the kid had to go to a school camp, and we had to buy a new dishwasher.” Sound familiar? It does to me. I have been a challenging planner, too. However, I've concluded that neither my dishwasher nor my fridge will last forever, and one day, even though I dread just writing it, I'll have to change the roof too. Oh, it's going to cost me. So, let's be better at including life in our personal or work planning. Then you're on top of it, and it doesn't hit you as a distraction.

  1. Procrastination distractions, made by you alone

Let's just be honest: this is the category where you can put most of your daily distractions. I'll be the first one to admit that it’s true for me. These distractions are so hard to spot because we do them subconsciously. For example, while working, it pops into your head that you need to make an appointment at the hairdresser, and you do so. Or while you're enjoying playing with your kids, you grab the phone, not because it rings but to check your Instagram. And by the way, social media is filled with specially designed commercials just for you, so without even noticing it, you've spent half an hour on this while you could have been present with your kids. I've come further by noticing my distractions, the ones I do daily. Try to notice them just for one day. To me, my yesterday's distractions looked like this:

  • Going out to sit in the sun for 20 minutes while I was supposed to work;
  • Scrolling through social media for about an hour;
  • Looking for inspiration for a new bathroom and sofa, even though I will keep both the same for at least the next six months; and
  • At least ten “procrastination ideas” while working.

Try to be aware every day. The more you pay attention to today, the more focused you’ll stay tomorrow.

  1. The good distractions, the ones you need:

Let's end with the best part: distractions aren't only negative.

  • As I sat and worked, a neighbor came over and said, “We need to go for a walk now.” (Yes, I live in the countryside, and that's how we do here) During the walk, she inspired me to take my work two levels higher.
  • While writing on a big project, my friend called and said he wanted to drag me out for lunch. At lunch, I felt like ordering something I had never tried before, and it turned out to become a favorite recipe I later used to surprise friends at the next birthday party.
  • When you're caught up in your negative energy (sorrow or complaining), and your spouse puts on some good music and starts dancing with you—this can also be a good distraction.
  • If you’re in the office working hard on a hot summer day, suddenly, the boss comes in with ice cream for everyone. I’m lucky to have tried this distraction often.

So, let's embrace those distractions. They bring us to a higher energy level or inspire us to do something better.

After we've looked at the five categories of distractions, we must look somewhere else now: in the mirror. To do the eco-friendly "sorting out the distractions trash," you need a robust character—focused and grounded. Unfortunately, none of us can be like that all the time. However, I hope you are curious and ready to take in and try this knowledge.

Let’s incorporate the eco-friendly “sorting out the distractions trash.”

  1. The first step is to be aware of them since most distractions happen subconsciously.
  2. With awareness, you throw them in the box they belong in.
  3. You follow up by fighting some distractions.

Then you’re on the right track to a more grounded version of yourself. Afterward, you can set another goal to notice which ones you conquered. That’s motivating, and it has helped me a lot.

Let's meet the world with a deeper grounding and more awareness.

Mette Dencker is a former Member of the Danish Parliament for 11 years, coach, and speaker.


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