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Driven By Distraction

by David Brock on March 8th, 2019

Friday mornings are usually “Coaching” days. I have a number of standing calls scheduled with coaching clients. This morning, there was a call with “Bob.”

At the appointed time, I called Bob, he picks up saying, “Hi, Dave…”

“Bob, what should we focus on ……..” I started.

Bob, “Excuse me a moment, I’ve just got to take this call, I am double booked.”

“Don’t worry, call me back when you are ready for this meeting,” I respond.

A few minutes later, Bob calls, he is appropriately apologetic, I am appropriately empathetic, I ask, “What should we focus on today?”

“Dave, I’m working really hard, I’m overwhelmed with stuff, but despite everything I do, I don’t seem to be accomplishing as much as I should, it seems like I’m spinning my wheels…..”

I couldn’t help chuckling a little, based on how we started the call. “Bob, tell me something. I imagine you are at your desk staring at you computer screen, in fact I can hear the keyboard in the background. What are you doing right now?”

Bob, a little chagrined, “Oops, you caught me Dave, I’m responding to some Slack messages and emails–they are really urgent. I’ll stop and pay attention……”

“OK Bob, how many windows are open on your computer right now?” I respond.

“About 5, Slack, email, my calendar, Linkedin, and a project document…..” Bob replies.

“OK Bob, turn them all off. In fact, turn your computer off…..” I say

Bob, “I can’t possibly do that. there’s important stuff happening…..”

“Should we reschedule this call when you can devote your attention to this issue….” I ask.

No, I didn’t make this up, but Bob’s not alone. We all do this, even me, when I slip on what I know to be good habits. We are all activity junkies, we suffer from acute “FOMA,” we can’t disconnect and concentrate.

Too often, we fool ourselves, mistaking busyness and activity with accomplishment. We think we are the exception to every study on multi-tasking and distraction. We, each , can manage this, we are always the exceptions identified in these studies.

We aren’t, our focus on activity keeps us from accomplishing what we need to be accomplishing. Our FOMA, keeps us from achieving, growing, moving forward.

Back to Bob……

“Bob, I understand you get a couple hundred Slack messages a day. What would happen if you turned off Slack, just looking at it a few time a day–perhaps in the morning, at lunch, in the late afternoon….”

“I couldn’t possibly do that, Slack is how we communicate, I need to respond if people need help…..” replies Bob.

“But Bob, what would happen if you didn’t respond for a few hours?”

Bob, confused, “I couldn’t possibly do that, I have to be responsive!”

“OK Bob, let’s take 10 minutes. I want you to scroll through your past 3 days of messages and identify all those that demanded an immediate response, I’ll wait,” I stated.

(OK, while he was doing that, I skimmed email…. mea culpa)

10 minutes later Bob comes back on, “I get it Dave, I skimmed through several hundred messages. None demanded an immediate response. A few I had to respond to in that day, but I didn’t need to respond to any immediately….”

“OK Bob, I want you to try something between now and our next call. Send a Slack message to everyone. Say you are focusing on improving your personal productivity and, as a result, you will only be looking at Slack 3 times a day. Then stick to that. Keep Slack shut down on your computer, on your mobile, and on your tablet. Keep track of the number of crises you have missed and we’ll talk about it in our next session. Have a great weekend.”

I’ll tell you what happens in a couple of weeks. But each of us, and Bob, already know the answer.

We are driven by distraction. Our FOMA, our compulsion to measure success by activity, keeps us from being productive and truly successful.

We want to be responsive, but honestly, there is very little in business–particularly in sales that demands immediate responses (If our job is to answer the phone or answer incoming messages, then we have to do our job, but only certain jobs require that.)

Try it yourself. Turn everything but the one thing you are working on off. Do that to completion or until your scheduled break. Then go to the next thing. You’ll be amazed at how much you accomplish.

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