Beautiful Distractions

Andy Rash from the Times

Andy Rash from the Times

Small confession: I was interrupted three times during the first paragraphs of Verena von Pfetten’s piece in the Times last month about—you guessed it—being distracted.

 

Twice my daughter asked me to refill her water gun for an ongoing arms race with the neighbors. Once my dog brought his ball to me, prompting me to add more treats. I am, after all, well trained.

 

By the time I returned to the second paragraph, to resume where I left off, my coffee was cold and I couldn’t remember what I had read.

 

I have a memory etched into my brain. I was in college, visiting my parents for a long weekend with nothing planned, the kind of extended relaxing time that unrolls sporadically like an uneven sphere coasting down an incline. I was sitting in the front room, curled in a swivel chair reading A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini. This was during a time in my life when I didn’t simply fall asleep any time I started to read, when a moment of relaxation actually meant just that, and I was so enveloped in the story, I didn’t notice my mom enter the room. I didn’t notice her, in fact, until she touched my shoulder and I jumped countable inches in the air, certain that the hand belonged to Mariam’s evil husband.

 

Uninterrupted time is a luxury. Distraction-free living is a luxury. It is meant for certain points in our lives. I’m not in one of those.

 

I’ve never been one to multi-task well. I rarely listen to music as I work, except for the occasional classical collection. I never seek television or radio to play while I complete tasks as “background noise.” Even a baseball game calls my attention away from whatever it is I am doing. I find it insufferable to look at my phone while holding a conversation, even if I’m seeking information that will prove a point. I’d rather engage than confirm.

 

Naturally, I consider myself a superior human because of this. And I really wanted to read von Pfetten’s article to confirm my suspicions. But I kept getting distracted.

 

Some distractions are completely out of our control: The water gun arms race, the dog whose primary motivation is peanut-butter flavored treats, the hour my husband returns from work. But it doesn’t stop there: The phone call from a panicking client with a “quick question” that is rarely quick. (It’s also rarely the reason for the call; usually it’s something deeper.) The student who “pops by” my office hoping for a quick moment. The colleague who asks if I’ve “got a sec” to talk through a problem.

 

At some point these distractions will end. I’ll become seasoned enough that my point of view will no longer be helpful or relevant to students or colleagues. The children around us will no longer need our support or validation. The dog will be too tired to request peanut butter treats. Then I’ll be able to read an article, or a book, or a tome without interruptions.

 

That’s when I’ll get back to von Pfetten’s article. In the meantime, it remains unread, at least by me.

 

Instead of reading it, I reheated my coffee and then joined my daughter outside. She had cast her water gun aside while the other kids continued playing. Instead she begun digging for treasures in a waterlogged flowerbed in our yard. She found a crystal, an old brass knob, and a worm.

 

What a wonderful distraction.

 

June 2016 Tasks

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 8.48.02 AMSummer has arrived, in spirit if not in actuality, and this month, our clocks slow down as the mercury rises. We’re slowly approaching the longest day of the year, and yet, there never seem to be enough hours of daylight to accomplish all we want to do. Especially if all we want to do is sip something cool and enjoy the breeze.

 

Conundrum.

 

Last month, we talked all about pricing* and this month we’ll focus on time, especially since the longer daylight hours trick our bodies into thinking we have more of it. (Psst… We don’t.)

 

Why not use this month to track your time? I’ve been playing around with different methods of time tracking lately trying to decide which one I like the best. (I haven’t decided.) The Passion Planner connects lots of ideas I love (taking time to focus, setting goals) to time management, but its teeny tiny spaces don’t give me nearly enough room to summarize my time. (That could be my own editing problem, though.) My tried-and-true Excel method still works best for me, but during the summer months I’m less and less motivated to use a computer, and more and more motivated to use pen and paper instead.

 

Toggl and Timely are both apps that come highly recommended, but I always find it feels a little silly to track personal time on an app. Applying a professional tool to my personal life feels counterintuitive, if not a little silly.

 

But what do I know? The definition of “professional” is fluid at best, especially in creative professions where the use of time and the use of brains for creative purposes never cease. So as we’re tracking our time this month, let’s not forget to set aside hours for “nothing.” Hours to think, hours to ponder, hours to read, or hours to wander. And let’s forgive ourselves for tracking that time. We track things we value, and we should value nothing more than our creative time. Even if there isn’t a default category for “thinking time.”

 

Just like with our time tracking systems, we’ll never know what feels right without trying a few things that feel wrong. (And believe me, I’ve found plenty that feel wrong to me.) The endless hours of June give us a perfect excuse to try something new, without any pressure or expectations.

 

We can save those pressures and expectations for September, when the real work begins again. This month, let’s think about our time. Let’s use it well. And let’s embrace exploration, both in our business models and in our creativity.

 

*Did you miss all our pricing notes from last month? Start with “More Than Math” and go from there…