What to do when distraction strikes

The other day I discovered an app for my Android smartphone that rendered me weak-kneed. It wasn’t exactly useful (unless you often find yourself coursing along busy streets, into underground stations or on cliffside rambles) in the traditional sense, but it inspired me to write this post so in many ways it was much more important than that.

Success is seeing through the distraction

This slice of code in question is called Transparent Screenand it lets you ‘look through’ your phone while you’re texting, browsing or – in my situation described in the image on this post – checking who’s checking in on Foursquare.

My other half wasn’t that impressed; her dad clearly was, since he was interrogating me about a possible affiliation to the Magic Circle for some minutes until I relented and explained it was all made possible by activating the camera on the phone’s bum.

While the real world applications for Transparent Screen are probably few, it does raise an interesting question about distraction: Now we can make a more meaningful effort to watch TV literally while we’re texting, is this the point where we now completely tune out from the world we once knew where being bombarded with information would have been seen as a major benefit, rather than a blight on our lives?

I get distracted all the time

Today this should appear on the job description for every vacancy:

  • Must be able to bounce back quickly from email interjections and impromptu social conversations

Clearly we can’t avoid distractions altogether – sometimes they are a welcome refreshment from a painful task at hand, or at the very least in the positive camp a moment of pause we can justify as ‘non-smoking breaks’, preferably accompanied by some fevered finger-jerking defiance in the direction of our yellow-fingered friends.

But equally we know that to stop distraction destroying us altogether we need a handle on the situation, a strategy we can fall back on to distract us from the distraction itself and bring our tasks in hand into sharp focus.

Because cat videos won’t pay the mortgage.

Don’t freak out about them

The first thing to acknowledge about the distraction goblin, so long as you can manage it effectively, is that it is a power for good. He who comes and takes your mind to new pastures can actually stimulate creativity if you

  1. Give yourself a daily distraction allowance
  2. Practice distraction meditation
  3. Curate information from the distraction.

If you work nine hours a day, having half an hour set aside for spontaneous distractions is no bad thing. We all run short on creative sparks each day and a distraction is often enough to renew your remarkable aptitude for doing things innovatively.

Distraction meditation means making sure you have notes of where you were before that lapse took place – a Moleskine notebook is ideal for this – and giving yourself wholly to the shiny new thing to reflect, accept and grow through what it had to offer.

In the same way as I tell everyone that it’s critical to experiment, just as it is to fail when you make sure to learn from your mistakes, so to it is freeing and empowering to let your cerebral energy wander providing it is reined.

Give yourself time to wander, give yourself entirely to the distraction that has sidetracked you, and make sure to mine it of all its value.

It happened to me, today.

My goal for the day was to create numerous pieces of content for a client, and work on their website relaunch. But first I wanted to evaluate my social efforts over at @davethackeray on Twitter to give thanks to my supporters across the conversation networks, so I first looked up my latest stats at SocialBro and then checked out Google Ripples to find out which of my Google+ posts had been shared, and by whom.

While cross-referencing some stuff on Twitter one of my pals Tweeted me about the Khan Academy so it was all I could do to head over there and find out about the financial crisis beleaguering the Eurozone.

While hammering out the best of the day’s news earlier on Pulse, the RSS application for my Android tablet, I’d learned Foursquare had released a brand new iteration of its mobile app. Being in that catatonic distraction daze was a perfect state for digging deeper into that story, and a link from that story took me to On{X}, another app that ‘revolutionises’ how you use your smartphone (like ‘revolutionises’ is a simile for ‘waste half your day here!’).

This is what happens when you set out with good intentions to be productive and then get broadsided by something vaguely interesting. It often all goes to plan until the dreaded social networking notification message. The notification that you’re about to lose the plot.

It’s exactly the same when it comes to selling more stuff. We have our eyes on the prize and then something with a subtle nuance of assisting us in our mission turns out to be nothing more than play time.

I’ve recalibrated now. I moved away from my desk, took a draft of water and reset the game. Today was all about working on a website relaunch for a client and so that’s where I’ll find myself just as soon as I’ve written this post (which in itself could potentially be seen as a distraction).

Another perspective on distraction therapy

We have to recognise that distractions are becoming more and more a part of our daily life, but instead of following what the naysayers say and removing them altogether, we need to compartmentalise them as a treat for later. That’s another way of dealing with the onslaught, and turning it to your advantage.

You could use Pocket (used to be Read It Later) or be devious and clever. Like I do.

There’s this ‘recipe maker’ called ifttt (If This Then That) I use to automatically render my Tweets to an Evernote document. This way I have a constantly evolving list of information that is so valuable, I’ve honoured my followers with it.

When I have a moment I head over to Evernote, check out the things that interest me, and also repurpose it as a newsletter when I get chance. Or a radio bulletin, or cherrypick and do a video on one of the elements.

Bulletproof.

If I get to the point where I simply cannot focus on the job in hand then fresh air enters the equation. A jog, a walk, a few moments watching the birds. It does wonders for your mental state and helps you revert to susceptibility to inspiration.

I’d love to know what you do to combat distraction. Was this a distraction? Share your favourites and unburden your distractions on us – you’ll be glad you did, and in a couple of hours we’ll be able to report back and tell you how our workload slipped off the face of this distracted planet.

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