Shiny Pretty Things

Ever lock your keys in your car? I have. Many times. And just today, too. That feeling when you push the car door shut and just before it slams, you see the keys sitting there all nice and shiny on the seat of the car where you put them when you pulled them out of the ignition so you wouldn’t forget them when you got out? I had that feeling. Wanted to swear. Two people getting out of their cars right by me so I didn’t. They asked if I needed help, I said “thanks I think I got it.”

But I didn’t have a spare key. It was a rental car. I was in my hotel parking lot. The good news? I didn’t have to sit outside in the rain and wait. It was a rental car. I called the company. Fifteen minutes later? Help arrived in the form of two guys in a pick up with a slim Jim from a local company that provides tow and lockout service. Door opened. Keys safely in my hand.

What’s the point of my story? It isn’t really about keys at all. It’s about being distracted. By phone conversations. Thoughts. People stopping by our office for a chat. The ping of a text coming through our smartphone. Shiny pretty things that take our attention away from what we’re doing. Taking us out of the present moment and somewhere else entirely.

Even as I was writing this post, I stopped in the middle realizing I’d forgotten to book my dog’s bath appointment for Friday. Phone call made. Bath booked. Shiny pretty things.

How can we learn to focus again and improve our attention span to better than that of a six-week old puppy?

I don’t know that I have the answer. But I have an answer. Be present. Exactly where you are. Doing what you’re doing. One thing at a time. If you are having a conversation, give it your full attention. Have you ever spent thirty minutes on the phone, hung up and can’t recall a single thing that was said? That’s because we’ve all been operating under the delusion that we can multitask.

Sure, we are physically capable of doing two things at once. Talk on the phone, look at your computer. Drive, eat lunch,  Yet, I’ve learned that when I try to do more than one thing at once, both things usually suffer.

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “But I like it when coworkers stop by, it gives me a chance to catch up.” And that’s true. But it also takes you fifteen minutes of mental energy just to get back to where you left off, no matter what shiny pretty thing Interrupted you..

I know it isn’t popular, but people who know more about this stuff than I do tell us we should turn off the alerts on our phones and emails. Turn down the ringer on the phone. Pay attention to the person in front of us, the document on the computer screen, the steering wheel in our hands. And if a shiny pretty thing grabs your eye? That’s ok. You’re human. Me too. But we keep trying.