If you’re like me, you have tight workweeks that require intense focus. Maybe like me, you’d even say you’re skilled at not wasting time. I experimented recently with this self-appraisal based on a book I’d read, and here’s an example of what happened.
The task at hand was doing layout for that week’s newspaper. I needed to locate in my email a story from a contributor scheduled for that week. I scrolled through my email, easily categorizing without distraction on my way to the one I needed. Then I got to one of my numerous email newsletters, this one from Nat Geo. Its staff is very talented, luring me in on a far more regular basis than others.
The first of two stories that caught my attention was “How Inflation Whipped the Romans.” Who could resist that? The second: “Are These the World’s Happiest Places?” Again, I ask – who could resist?
The first click was a straightforward reading experience, with nothing else grabbing my attention.
In the second story, I became entrapped by the feature photo with a cutline that claimed that Danes have the lowest obesity rate on the planet due to a built environment that encourages activity. That caused me to wonder which country had the highest obesity rate (so I looked it up: Nauru) and where the United States fell on this list (so I looked it up: 14th in the world).
I didn’t know where Nauru was (it’s an island northeast of Australia) and then had to learn why its people had such high obesity rates – which seemed odd to me given that the photos showed they wear so few clothes. That’s when I learned about the country’s phosphorus industry and how its residents had completely mined the resource away and were now living on Western white rice and ramen noodles while trying to become farmers instead of miners. That led me down a path of ways to shift the gross domestic product of an entire nation. Deeper and deeper I went.
I eventually reemerged and resumed, but it took probably more than a little while to regain my distracted focus. I wanted to learn why only cheap, unhealthful foods are available to the poorest of countries – even the poorest of communities in this country. I restrained myself.
Google research is obviously my poison, but define your own and how you spend your time on this earth and the brain power you’ve been given. It’s like first attempts at meditation and the astonishment that comes with the awareness of the number and kind of self-talk continuously besieging our brains.
I learned much more than this in a fantastic book by Johann Hari that I read recently, Stolen Focus. It’s well researched, well written and often hilarious. It also has an immediate impact, allowing you to see and understand differently how you routinely navigate your world.
Because that’s what it’s all about, right? Clearly, presently and mindfully inhabiting our world and how we’re choosing to spend all the precious moments of our lives.
Not all distractions are unproductive, of course. I did, for example, get a column out of this particular one. I guess I’ll apologize in advance if mine became yours.