I’m distracted. I’m distracted as I’m writing this because it’s Friday and I’m already fully in weekend mode. I’m also distracted because it seems like it’s the nature of the beast once a new semester starts. The vast, empty stretches of time are suddenly replaced with miniscule windows in which to get everything accomplished. I certainly have days where I’m not making it any easier. Have you ever opened a new browser window and found yourself absentmindedly logging into your email? Even if you just closed your email client, your brain magically directs your fingers to input those all too familiar keystrokes just as you realize what you’re doing.
The issue isn’t so much having less time in which to accomplish everything, it’s what actually ends up taking precedence. I’m not likely to miss a work deadline because that would be bad professionally and because I don’t want to let anyone else down. Yet in the desire to always be viewed as a good worker, often we neglect those very things that enable us to function at peak level.
I know so many people who are thriving professionally or academically yet a peak behind the curtain reveals a life fraught with stress and anxiety, as well as a plethora of unhealthy behaviors that ultimately will minimize their success. It’s just so incredibly hard to get out of well-worn routines when the payoff is not immediate. For example, the person who doesn’t see value in getting eight hours of sleep minimum every night, or feels the need to be the first to arrive at work and the last to leave in some self-deluded idea of what it means to be a good worker.
What about those smaller, more insidious things those that barely register in our consciousness, like checking email while sitting next to our partner on the couch, always taking the elevator, or saying ‘yes’ to a new request without even consulting your calendar to see if you’re actually available. We do all sorts of self-sabotage on a daily basis, and most of us aren’t even realizing it. On a small scale, you might argue what is the issue in stopping at the drive-thru after work on an incredibly hectic day, but over a lifetime we are the sum of all those small actions.
So what am I doing to combat the distracted mind? First and foremost cutting myself some slack when something gives way and I’m not able to tick every single item off my to-do list. Second, I’m reevaluating the importance I give to different areas of my life, and learning to restructure so that what is truly valuable is what is most likely to get done. Carrying a planner everywhere with me has been helping, as well as taking more than 2.3 seconds to fire back an answer to a request for my presence at yet another meeting or committee.
Asking what it is I want to actually be doing at any given moment has also been quite eye-opening. Instead of just living my life on auto-pilot, doing the same thing day in and day out, I’m much more purposeful about my actions, and synching my wants and desires with my energy level at any given moment. It’s not always perfect, but really paying attention in the moment has afforded me new found time to nap on the weekends, or read 50 pages of a book during my lunch break in complete relaxation.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate distractions from one’s life, but with some elbow grease it’s possible to carve out time for the things that truly matter while slowly letting go of the rest.