The Blog

Don't Get Distracted -- or Else

Getting distracted can result in a lot more serious consequences than simply getting a ticket, and being distracted -- and not staying focused -- is one of the social problems of our times.
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I started thinking about getting distracted after I got a parking ticket for street sweeping on a block near my house. It was a ticket I didn't have to get, since I reminded myself as I got out of the car that I would have to move it in the morning before the sweeper came by from 1-3 p.m. But I didn't write down a note to move my car in my date book, and the next morning, I got distracted by writing and multiple emails and phone calls. So I didn't remember about moving the car until 2:30 p.m. When I rushed out, there was the ticket, marked 1:08 p.m. because the parking enforcement person did not get distracted and was right on time to give out tickets when the truck rolled by.

Getting distracted can result in a lot more serious consequences than simply getting a ticket, and being distracted -- and not staying focused -- is one of the social problems of our times. Being distracted means that you might forget or be late for important appointments, which can result in more than making embarrassed apologies. It can result in your losing a job or a deal, because the other party thinks you might be unreliable or that you can't give the job or deal the necessary priority. Being distracted can also result in missed opportunities, because you aren't paying attention when that opportunity presents itself. It can lead to mistakes when you are preparing documents, like missing an important clause you would otherwise change in an agreement. Or you might fail to sign a postal address change order, so you have to write up the form again, as I did -- or even worse, your mail doesn't get forwarded and you are long gone to another city or state.

Being distracted can also lead you to miss names at events or forget important information, because you never properly paid attention. And even worse, it can lead to accidents and even deaths, which have been in the news recently. For example, one worker in Oregon wasn't paying attention and slipped into a meat grinder. A railroad engineer was texting just before he ran a red light and a train crashed in Southern California. A girl trying to retrieve her cell phone wasn't paying attention when the train came roaring down the tracks and got killed. In other cases, it's the distracted drivers and bicyclists who are at fault.

Unfortunately, being distracted is one of the problems of our times, because we are suffering from so much and so many different sources of input simultaneously, which has been researched extensively by well-known research firm MicKinsey and Company. As a result, it is very easy to move too quickly from one task to another in the course of multi-tasking, so we forget crucial steps that lead to disaster, such as when a private message gets sent to everyone in the office, leading to humiliation, hurt feelings, and outrage for the parties involved. Another example is sending the wrong message to the wrong person, because you are working with two or more documents at the same time on the screen. Or perhaps you get distracted while on the phone with someone, because another call comes in on call waiting or an urgent message comes in via email or via text on your phone.

In short, there are multiple ways we are distracted today leading to all kinds of problems. So what's the solution? One approach is to resolve to pay more attention to one thing at a time or schedule times when you can perform certain tasks without interruption. For instance, some of my business associates makes it a point to review emails every two hours, rather than jumping back and forth between projects they are working on and their inbox or phone to check their mails. Another strategy some business people use is to shut their doors at certain times when they are closed to any communications from others in their office except for an emergency. Even if you work in a cubicle, you can put a sign on it where you say, "Don't bother me now." The idea is to take steps to be more attentive and focused, so you don't let yourself be distracted. And if you have to remember to do something important, write it down or put up signs on your wall or bulletin board about it.

In my case, I felt instantly better about my traffic ticket, because I was able to consider it a kind of business expense, since I'm writing this article. But in doing so, I made it a point to stay very focused until I said everything I wanted to say. I wasn't about to let myself be distracted, when I was writing an article about the dangers of being distracted and what to do to have less distractions in your life.

Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., writes frequently about social trends and everyday life. She is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients and has written and produced over 50 short videos through Changemakers Productions and is a partner in a service that connects writers to publishers, agents, and the film industry -- The Publishing Connection ( Her latest books include: TRANSFORMATION: HOW NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, BUSINESS AND SOCIETY ARE CHANGING YOUR LIFE and THE BATTLE AGAINST INTERNET BOOK PIRACY.