Focussed or distracted?
‘But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.’ Luke 10:40a
The account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, where Martha is crashing around the kitchen whilst Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, learning, is a passage I am sure many of us have preached on over the years. I have used it to teach on the importance of not being too busy for Jesus; however in this month’s e-news I want to focus on another aspect in the story, and that is the danger of distractions.
Many of us who are serving God in the rural context are faced with a resource challenge which often means we are trying to do several things; juggling a number of different responsibilities. Unless you are incredibly disciplined (unlike me) there is a danger that we can become quite distracted, and end up spending a disproportionate amount of time on the small things, rather than the main thing. You may have heard the apocryphal tale of a man eager to try out his new hunting dog, and takes him out to track a bear. Once in the forest the dog quickly picks up the bear’s scent and runs off barking enthusiastically and wagging his tail. Suddenly it detects the scent of a deer, and chases off in the opposite direction, similarly excited about his new find. Again a new scent is detected, that of a rabbit, and the dog is distracted and pounds off again in yet another direction barking and wagging. Eventually the hunter catches up with his dog, which is barking triumphantly down the hole of a small mouse.
In leadership, I recognise the traits of the hunting dog; starting out with big ideas and bold intentions, but quickly getting distracted and diverted to lesser activities. There is a need to learn the difference between the urgent and the important. Distraction is a common temptation to keep us from doing the most important. Writing the sermon for the coming Sunday is important, but an email from Churches Together regarding the next gathering, and seeking your thoughts, or a posting on Facebook from an old school friend might seem urgent. We can easily find ourselves drifting from one project to another without any real focus.
According to studies, distractions don’t just eat up time during the distraction; they derail your mental progress for up to 30 minutes afterwards. If we're distracted 10 times a day, multiply the time lost by 30, and it's easy to see why we sometimes don't get much quality work done. So here are three quick practical tips to remind me, and perhaps help you too.
Schedule specific times to check and respond to emails. In-between these times, turn off your email. When you're not using your email program, close it entirely – or at least turn off the visual or audible alerts that distract you. This eliminates the temptation to check it constantly.
Cluster similar activities together. Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout your day, try grouping related tasks so that there are fewer transitions.
Read the news before the start of the day. Visit news sites or read newspapers before work, so that you know the news. That way, you won't be distracted as much during the day.
Allow me to finish with a final question; what is your focus today?