A few weeks ago, I took my 8-year old BMW in for maintenance.
While my car was being serviced, the dealership gave me a loaner. Among other features, the sporty, but luxurious, 2014 BMW X3 had heated seats, in-dash navigation, key-less entry, Bluetooth sync and push button start. A far cry from the car I dropped off!
My appointment was early on a spring Friday morning. Charlotte’s weather had been rainy for a few days. However, on this Friday, the sun was shining against the backdrop of an inspiring clear blue sky. I’d planned to drive back to work after leaving the dealership. And I did. When I arrived, I just could not focus. I had the best intentions, but all I could think of was getting that sexy driving machine out on the open road.
Ultimately, I closed my laptop, took a half day and went for a long drive. I relaxed as I turned up the music, pushed the pedal to the floor and let the day, and the car . . . take me wherever it wanted.
You might imagine, that decision had repercussions.
You see, much of the important work I’d allocated for the day went undone. Because our company is small, my productivity has a huge impact on in-flight projects. When Monday rolled around, I had to finish up work from the previous week before I could start on what had been planned for the new week. And I had no one to blame, but myself.
What happens when you have to work, but you don’t want to?
We’ve all experienced it. On a Sunday night, you hear yourself say, “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.” Perhaps you are at work with a looming deadline on a big project, but you’re just not in the mood; or you’re burned out from one too many late nights. Maybe you are working, when you realize two hours have passed after you got sidetracked by that hilarious YouTube Video or intriguing Twitter post.
Here are two impactful, yet easy-to-apply steps to take to help you stay engaged when something other than work competes for your attention:
1. Resolve the Why
When we understand why something is or isn’t, we’re better able to reach an intended result. This is the reason so many leaders and managers are obsessed with metrics. To be productive, you must analyze where you are and how you got there. Then compare that with where you want to be. With this data in hand, you can plan a way to get there.
So, the next time you find yourself distracted, answer one question: Why? Depending on your answer, your solution may present itself.
For instance, if your WHY is because you procrastinated and now have mounds of work to complete, the answer may just be to dig down and push through. Head to a conference room or quiet work-space with one specific task in mind and let your brain get to business. The key is to focus on only one at a time. Otherwise, you’ll remain unfocused and frustrated.
If your WHY is that you have too my projects and aren’t sure where to start, you may just need to clear your mind to get your engine revved. Try taking a 15-minute cat nap in your car. Just want to go shopping or hit the golf course? Maybe you should indulge. Get it out of the way and come back to the work.
2. Pause a Moment
Before you engage your desire to abandon ship, take a moment to unplug.
You’ve heard me talk consistently about the need for “white space” and it applies here also. Sadly, Americans – in particular – have moved to a space where turning off our smart phones is no longer an option . . . e-mails and phone calls must be returned, meetings must be had etc. The human brain however, is not equipped for the level of “go-go-go” to which we subject it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!
In an October 2013, Scientific American article entitled “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime”, writer Ferris Jabr reports: “downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages creativity and productivity, and is essential to our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.” The truth is, in order to keep producing, you have got to give yourself a break.
Try This: Close your eyes and just sit in your work-space for five minutes. This may be difficult for the average “A Type”, but humor me. Set a timer if you must, but close your eyes and sit. If you can manage this one small action, you will have reset your brain so you can reconsider the work before you without the “noise” of other thoughts.