Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Overcoming Distractions

Written by: on December 20, 2019

The alarm on the iPhone goes off on the nightstand as Cheyenne frantically reaches to shut it off. However, once it is in her hand, notifications for work emails and social media flood her screen. Without hesitation, she unlocks her phone and immediately begins to check the onslaught of distractions greeting her before one foot hits the floor. Her prescheduled morning routine includes a long list of multiple tasks including but not limited morning devotionals, breakfast (which may be a quick coffee or juice), getting the kids ready for school, meeting preps, email and phone correspondence, all before she grabs her belongings to head out for the thirty minutes to hour commute to the office. Like Cheyenne, on most days, instead of hitting the stop button on the alarm and continuing with the set morning routine, we lose twenty to thirty minutes collapse in a time warp of distractions.

This scenario may not be your morning, but it’s the start of the morning for many others in this digitalized world in which we live.

Every day there are countless exposures to distractions that prevent us from accomplishing projects, goals, and yes early morning routines. The intriguing factor regarding these distractions is that we are so conditioned to distractions that we are unaware of their impact — it affects how we function in life and how we perform in our professional capacity. Clarification – what we allow ourselves to be distracted by affects how we function in life and how we perform in our professional lives.

Understanding the Brain and Distractions

For the purpose of understanding how distractions affect our personal lives and work life, it is fundamental to recognize how the brain interprets and processes them. According to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, there are two brain systems widely used in psychology that control our attention; System 1 and System 2.  System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control[1]. System 2, however, allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computation.[2] It is often associated with subjective experiences of agency, choice, and concentration.[3]

Our brains…construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to[4]. Winifred Gallagher suggests, who you are, what you think, feel, and so, what you – is the sum of what you focus on.[5] However, that focus can be vulnerable to the intrusion of distractions.

According to scientists, there are two variations of distractions of affecting the brain, sensory and emotional distractions. When processing distractions, System 1 makes suggestions to System 2 and System 2 makes the final decision of where to give our attention. Because we are continuously being overwhelmed with distractions throughout the day System 2 has to work extremely hard to keep us focused.

Finding A Solution Through Deep Work

Cheyenne enters her office, and before she can settle at her workspace, the phone begins to ring and notifications flood her computer scene with her tasks and meetings for the day. The new project details outlined on the iPad on her desk awaiting her review. As she reaches for the iPad,  a company executive enters the office with yet another urgent assignment.

In most workplaces, employees have to answer calls, respond and write emails, maintain schedule meetings, video conferences, and, most of the time, all of that is happening at the same time they are trying to complete projects and meet deadlines. Some may think they need to learn how to multitask, while others may feel it’s a part of the job if you cannot handle the fire then get out of the kitchen. However, multitasking equates to constantly changing between several tasks at once, allowing access to multiple distractions which ultimately hinders productivity. Consequently, in the work economy, today remains the underlining factor that if you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are[6]. However, to produce at your peak level, you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work[7].

Deep Work is a concept described by a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, Cal Newport, in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. In essence, deep work is professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.[8]  In order to succeed with deep work, you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli. This doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate distracting behaviors; it’s sufficient that you instead eliminate the ability of such behaviors to hijack your attention.[9]

Deep work is not an easy feat to take on; it something you must fight to get to and maintain. However, the key lies in the ability and willingnesses to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration[10]. At the core, it means uncluttering the pathway of distractions around you.

Below is a list of highlighted key points to implementing deep work for your life.

  • Identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours[11]
  • Don’t take breaks from distraction, instead take breaks from focus.[12]
  • To take full advantage of the value of deep work: Schedule every minute of your day.[13]
  • The ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.[14]

[1] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 20-21.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 77.

[5][5] Ibid.

[6] Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 32.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. 3.

[9] Ibid. 166.

[10] Ibid. 100.

[11] Ibid.137.

[12] Ibid. 159.

[13] Ibid. 222.

[14] Ibid. 258.

About the Author

Shermika Harvey

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