I have noticed lately that I am more easily distracted then I would like to be. There was a time in my life when I could literally read for hours on end taking notes, asking questions, summarizing, grasping big ideas and fitting them into a larger web of thought. Seriously, I could sit in one place for hours and hours, no phone, no laptop, just me with books and pens and papers.
That guy is long gone.
Of course, different stages of life call for different lifestyles and I shouldn’t bemoan the change too much, it is at least partly driven by having taken on more responsibilities in the world (family, work, community). At the same time it would be a gross lie to say that is all the problem is caused by.
I do not want to blame the tools and toys in my life and yet I want to (need to?) recognize that Youtube, Facebook, News media and my phone, are leaving me feeling distracted and play a major role in the way my mind jumps from project to project and idea to idea. Maybe I am not alone in this but in zoom meetings I can find myself checking websites rather than paying as close attention as the meeting requires; or editing a document and checking sports scores mid-sentence. So, in part, I need to be a better control of the tools/toys in my life.
If you too are feeling distracted I am praying for you and I would covet your prayers as well. I mean for Pete’s sake even in prayer my mind can wander unhelpfully.
Taking time to shut the devices down, giving each device a home (not in the kitchen or bedroom), taking of notifications, these are boilerplate suggestions but they are good if only we can implement them, as I sometimes do but often slide away from.
The best corrective I know for this is twofold. Firstly, I write more by hand and then type it up later. Yes in a sense this takes more time, but I have found that in typing a certain sort of editing happens as the typed words are not exactly the same as the handwritten notes. More importantly, the extra focus means the whole process actually takes less time because I am less pulled to Youtube.
Secondly, and more to do with the life of faith, checking in on my meditation practice. If I feel distracted it is almost always true that I have become slack in my meditation. In my experience there is a direct correlation between sitting quietly daily and the ability to focus and remain focused the rest of the day. The challenge of this is twofold: first, starting again is like learning to meditate all over again, the mind wanders and that is frustrating, but it is just part of the process. Secondly, it means I need to review my calendar and fight to protect the space I need for this, only 20 minutes once or twice a day, but I let is slip for a good reason once or twice and next thing I know it hasn’t been on the schedule in a while! Both these challenges are overcome by discipline, by setting the intention to meditate and create the space. As a bonus, much like the longer writing process, as I get into a rhythm of meditation the extra focus I can bring into the other elements of life translates into my having more time.