Actually, there are a number of phenomena that concern me more than terrorism. Global warming would easily be in my top five. But my most immediate fear here in the United States? That’s easy. Distraction.
Just this morning on my way back from the gym I saw the aftermath of a three car pileup on a wide, flat and easy peasy main thoroughfare in my hometown. Nobody was injured. All three drivers were in clear view. The weather was perfect. The sun was not blinding. There could only have been one issue. Distraction.
I live less than one block away from an elementary school. To the immediate right past one house there is a four way intersection with four stop signs. To the left about 400 yards down the street is another four way intersection with four stop signs. This morning I was on the street speaking with my neighbor when I witnessed an all too frequent sight – someone driving at least 25 miles per hour with their face buried in their smartphone as said car was in full movement. Distraction.
My neighbor then told me about her former boss, who several months ago had purchased a completely souped up high-end Mercedes. Two weeks after she left the dealership she was broadsided and left badly bruised. Her car was totaled. Once the police arrived the other driver admitted he was on his smartphone. Distraction.
But wait, here’s one more. Last summer I saw someone drive down our street seemingly using their legs to steer because they were using their two hands to eat a bowl of spaghetti. I’m not kidding. Distraction.
According to the CDC more than 2,920 people in the US are killed each year due to distracted driving. Basically we have ourselves a 9/11 event here in America every year. But unlike the real 9/11 or last week’s events in Brussels and Lahore – to name just two incidents, nobody seems to give much of a shit about distraction. Sure, AT&T may have its ‘It Can Wait‘ social media campaign and you might see a bumper sticker here or there, but I don’t hear our presidential candidates talking about this one. And traffic tickets issued for being caught using a smartphone while driving are akin to a hand slap, i.e., a fraction of the cost of your typical speeding ticket. Police officers I speak with in our small community readily admit there is not a whole lot they can do to discourage drivers away from this deadly habit. What bugs them most are folks who catch a minute or two with their device at a traffic light. Most of these people slowly or perhaps never put their phone down when the light turns green. Distraction.
Don’t get me wrong. I strongly empathize with any and all victims of terrorism. But apparently if you live in the States your chances of being killed by a terrorist are 1 in 20 million. Yet unlike terrorism I don’t see any of CNN’s screaming anchors getting us into a full-on lather about the risks of choking to death on a meatball sub with melted provolone cheese and spicy cherry peppers. Yeah that’s right. You have an exponentially greater likelihood of getting killed because you choke on food: 1 in 4,404. (sources)
And so here you are, perhaps still reading this, wishing I would stop sermonizing because: a) who the feck do I think I AM I anyway? and b) you live in a big city and don’t even own a FECKING car. OK then.
Well in all due respect, can you please just shut the FECK up for ONE MINUTE. Let’s assume you work in a hustling and bustling tech company. During the course of your work days you attend a lot of meetings – so many in fact that it’s seemingly impossible to get all your deliverables completed. The solution is easy. You and most everyone else attending your meetings spend a measurable amount of time multitasking during said meetings. As one person speaks you can hear the clicking away of multiple keyboards, almost like an old school teletype newsroom sound effect.* The end result: lower productivity. The cause: Distraction.
Or perhaps you spend a measurable amount of time at the office on social media or gossiping. Come on. You think nobody notices the time stamps on your Facebook posts? Really? Distraction.
Talk to the most senior HR executive at your company and ask what keeps her/him up at night. Their answer will likely be, ‘lack of employee engagement.’ Distraction.
The opposite of distraction is focus. And one’s ability to focus for prolonged periods of time increasingly sets her/him apart in every walk of life. I think of the leaders I have worked with whom I have most admired. All of them had an ability to curb distractions and aim their minds and actions toward a single activity. Sure, one may surmise they can do this because they ARE executives with quiet offices and strong, able-bodied EAs who keep people like you and me away from them. But then, how did they rise toward the top in the first place? Hint: It wasn’t because of their masterful ability to respond to emails while ambling down the freeway in their Tesla.
The ways to curb distraction are straightforward. Mindfulness. Awareness. Single-task focus. Intention. You can build these muscles up by meditating. Just listen to your breathing for five minutes. And then do a meditation-like thing throughout your day. How?
When you are driving, drive.
When you are walking, walk.
When you are in a meeting, participate fully in the meeting.
When you are with your kids in the park, be with your kids in the park and not on a conference call.
If you need to de-stress at work leave your cubicle and take a walk. Anywhere. And yes, leave your smartphone behind for 15 to 30 minutes.
Let’s take individual responsibility. Let’s own this.
End of sermon. Now please leave a buck in the pail so I can buy the iPhone 7 when it ships in the Fall. Distraction.
*Yeah I just checked. New York’s 1010 WINS Newsradio still uses the teletype sound effect in the background even though they got rid of their teletype machines more than 25 years ago.