Beware the Distraction of the Bright Shiny Penny


Photo by skitzitilby on Flickr

Do you sometimes feel like you are running around like a crazy person trying to get everything done, only to accomplish nothing at the end of the day because of distractions? This morning I was cooking biscuits for breakfast. They were almost finished, but needed one more minute. I turned off the oven but left the biscuits in to finish browning and went to my computer to check one thing in my email box. Three minutes later I jerked my eyes off the blog post rant I was reading about Facebook and looked at the oven in horror. I have completely forgotten to take the biscuits out! And the scary thing was that I could have gone on reading for another 10-20 minutes.

Luckily, the biscuits weren’t burned since I had turned the oven off, but the episode reminded me that there are dangers in running from bright shiny penny to bright shiny penny down the path of life. If you are anything like me, you start off the day with great intentions, get distracted by events during your day as you run around to get things done, then end up feeling you’ve accomplished nothing. In the interest of sharing what I am in the process of learning, here are some questions to ask yourself when you are trying to accomplish a task and something threatens to change your trajectory:

Is this a bigger priority than what I was doing?

The distraction might be fun, urgent, or have an impatient person attached to it, but if it isn’t as important as the task at hand then you need to save it for later. Jot it down on a notepad, send yourself an email with the reminder, call your other phone and leave a voice mail. Somehow, find a way to add it to your collection of things to think about later.

If I allow myself to get distracted now, how do I make sure I come back to what I’m doing?

Your reminder might be setting a timer, putting a rubber band around your wrist (you’ll notice it later, I promise) or leaving a big yellow sticky note in a prominent place for when you return. The trick is to find something that will get you back on track when you can focus again on your task.

How much energy or time will reacting to this take?

In the process of chasing every new idea that comes along, you’ll burn off a lot of energy. Is that energy better spent heading toward a specific goal today? If not, enjoy running after your pennies and have a great time doing it. But if following it will take so much energy or time that you can’t accomplish your task today, you need to remind yourself to stay on target.

Today’s Strength Training Challenge

Identify one thing you will accomplish today. You can do more if you wish, but make sure to finish one small piece of meaningful work. If you finish one task that is important and will lead toward a larger priority or goal, you will end each day with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. And you won’t find yourself eating burned biscuits.