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Ditch the distractions

They can cause stress, hurt our performance levels and even put us in physical danger — so cut them out!

Special to The TribuneSeptember 14, 2012 

Flash: Distracted walking can be hazardous to your health. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that pedestrian fatalities increased by 4.2 percent and injuries by 19 percent in 2010, even though the number of overall traffic deaths had gone down.

Research conducted by Ohio State University professor Jack Nasar revealed that pedestrians engaged in riskier behavior when talking on their mobile devices and paid less attention to what was going on around them.

It’s no surprise that Americans are distracted. They’re convinced they can juggle an iPhone-ful of tasks without ever skipping a beat.

Of course, that’s a bunch of hooey. If you’ve been on the receiving end of a conversation as someone attempts to check out at the market, you know they’re not focused on you. The conversation is filled with long pauses, senseless noises and cautions — “Hey, can you hold on for just a sec.” Not my idea of a gratifying interaction.

And if you honestly think you can adequately focus while fiddling with your mobile device, ask yourself the simple question, “Would I want my surgeon to text his kids while I’m on the operating table?” I think not.

Distractions are nothing new. Babies have always fussed in the back seat of the car, and dogs have always barked when we’re trying to work from home.

The main difference now is that the distractions are self-imposed. They’re emitted from our pockets. Our iPhones allow us to talk to clients, check in with the sitter and plan a birthday party while driving the car pool. Our brains are in perpetual overload.

These distractions exact a heavy toll. Not only do they place us in physical danger as we walk or drive, but they make us feel increasingly stressed. We’re diverted by unending stimuli, then wonder why we can’t sleep at night. We spend less time interacting face-to-face with loved ones, then feel detached and unloved.

Performance levels plummet, too. Even though folks insist multitasking makes them more productive, research repeatedly shows that isn’t the case. The inherent starting and stopping wastes more time than it saves. When we complete one task before starting a second, efficiency and output climb.

That doesn’t mean we should eliminate all mental distractions. Not only would that be impossible, but we need mini breaks now and then. And it is fun texting our friends and kids. Still, it’s wise to keep distractions to a minimum so we stay physically and emotionally healthy.

DO YOU NEED SOME HELP MINIMIZING THE DISTRACTIONS IN YOUR LIFE? TRY FOLLOWING THESE TRUSTY TIPS

• Identify the main task at hand. Ask yourself, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” When you accurately name your purpose, your behavior follows suit.

• Notice scattered thought processes. Tune in to your thoughts. If they’re frantic and flighty, that means you’re scattered to the max. Try to rein in the panic before moving on to anything else.

• Remember to breathe. The simple act of calm, deliberate breathing helps quiet your mind and refocus your thoughts. Take five slow breaths throughout the day to clear your mind of chaos.

• Prioritize your chores. Decide what needs to be first on your agenda, then rank the others in order of importance. This simple step helps you organize your mind and your datebook.

• Create cellphone-free times during your day. Turn off the cellphone. Don’t respond to any texts. Immerse yourself in the psychic groove without the threat of unnecessary distractions.

• Clean up your work station. Make your work area free from distractions. Clear away tempting stimuli that might catch your eye. Your environment should say, “I’m here for a specific purpose,” and enable you to get your work done.

• Set a timer. Assign a specific length of time to your chore, and try your best to make sure you stop when the allotted time has expired. This minimizes the chance you’ll get sidetracked and not complete anything at all.

• Take frequent breaks. It’s OK to stop sometimes. We’re much more distractible when we’re tired, so take five when you need a rest. Walk around. Check your email. Have a sip of water. Then get back to the business at hand.

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