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  • Melissa Sims

Managing Distraction through Mindful Attention

As leaders, you are likely inundated with a plethora of daily distractions, which can cause you to lose focus, feel scattered, and at times overwhelmed. But when you can use mindful attention, you can quiet the noise, which will help increase your focus, your mood, and reduce stress.


Have we come to expect distraction as a part of life? I think that because we have so many distractions, we’ve become numb to it. Our attention is going in so many directions that it makes sense that adults are being diagnosed with ADHD at a staggering rate. In fact, from 2007 to 2016, adult-ADHD diagnoses shot up by 123 percent in the U.S., and adults replaced children as the primary consumers of the medications typically prescribed to treat the condition.


What the heck is going on here???


With the speed of technological advances far outpacing the studies of how this technology affects us in the long term, it’s a recipe for some serious sensory overload. Think about (if you’re old enough) the time before we had smart phones. What did we do with our time? We certainly didn’t have information at the touch of our fingertips, and we didn’t have our focus on several things at once. People are watching/listening to something on their phones while they are doing other things, like crossing the street, working out, cooking, eating…just about everything. So before we had this “luxury” we operated less chaotically, and our attention spans were much higher. Now, our brains are on complete overload, thanks (or no thanks) to technology. We don’t have a singular focus anymore to really appreciate how something smells, or feels, or tastes…because we are too busy to take it in fully. Our brains just cannot process it, even as amazing as they are. And at times, when you become so fully overwhelmed, you even try to tune out certain things in order to concentrate, which can leave room for error and even completely missing important information.


While the way we communicate with one another has because increasingly more convenient and quick, it has also created the bulk of our distractions. How many messages do you receive daily? This includes not just email, but voicemail, direct messages on social channels, text messages, etc. I know my inbox each morning has an obscene amount of junk mail. It is a total distraction, because I have to filter through each of them to make sure an important email isn’t in there somewhere that I could miss. And I have definitely missed a message here or there! If I were to not have to glance at each subject or sender, I wonder how much time and processing power I would be saving?


So how can we use our attention in a mindful manner?


First, being mindful about your attention requires that you aren’t passing judgement on yourself for losing your focus. Just recognizing that it is happening will help you in managing distraction. Once you’ve noticed you’re in a state of distraction, it is helpful to try to figure out what led to the distraction. I would suggest taking note of the things that actually pull your attention away from a task. Was it a noise, a notification, or something that just popped into your head? What was the task you were trying to stay focused on?


Sometimes I will start on a project, then get a notification that pulls my attention away. I shift my focus to the notification’s subject…then forget what I was doing in the first place! Not a great way to stay on track. So, I started taking note of my processes. I noticed that if I was working on something that didn’t require a lot of creativity or that didn’t really interest me, my brain was actually looking for a reason to move on. Unfortunately, things like bills are not sparking my creative fire, but still need to get done.


I noticed that this happens a lot when I am tired, so I have started to do my more “boring” things in the morning, when my brain is fresh and I can get those things off my plate quickly. Then the rest of my day is reserved for the more creative things. If I make an effort to minimize distractions like notifications, noise, etc, I tend to get more done through my day and actually have more brainpower at the end of my day.


Try to take note this week of what is distracting you. The more focused you are, the more you can model mindful behavior for your staff. If you can proactively manage your time and energy, you’ll be better equipped to lead your team with focus, energy, and mindfulness.

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