Let’s say you set your monthly goals, create an awesome to-do list, rearranged your calendar, and you know what to focus on today.

You’re getting into a groove, starting to cross stuff off your list, when suddenly, an important request pops up. Maybe it’s an email or a text or a phone call, or perhaps the distraction comes from within, and you get a great idea you have the urge follow through with immediately.

You feel an internal tug of war. Part of you wants to keep working. The other part wants to say yes to the request.

What do you do?

There isn’t one simple solution for what to do when you’re interrupted. Sometimes, you’ll need to stay focused on what you’re doing. Other times, you’ll need to divert your attention and attend to the request. When you’re interrupted, your task is not always to just stay focused on the task at hand.

When you’re interrupted, your task is to refrain from reacting impulsively and, instead, to make a conscious choice.

When you think about it, it’s the impulsiveness that gets folks in trouble. They see a bright shiny object, and suddenly, they’re chasing it down a rabbit hole. When you can control your impulses, you can feel great about your response, regardless of whether or not you choose to change your focus.

The most helpful practice I’ve found for refraining from habitual impulsivity and responding consciously when you’re interrupted is self-observation.

In this practice, you take time at the end of each day to reflect on how you used your time and how you responded when interrupted.

If you struggle with time management, I encourage you to engage with this practice end of each day for the next three weeks. It will only take five to ten minutes per day, but it can have a big impact.

Here’s the practice—

Choose a time and space where you aren’t distracted, and take a moment to become present in your body.

Then, jot down your responses to the following questions.—

What I did:

  1. What did I plan to accomplish today?
  2. How close did I come to achieving what I wanted to achieve?
  3. How long did my tasks take?

When I felt pulled:

  1. When did I feel pulled away from my plans?
  2. What were the physical sensations and emotions when I felt pulled away?
  3. What was I thinking when I felt pulled away?
  4. How did I respond to feeling pulled away?
  5. What was the impact of my response on me? On other people?
  6. What would I like to try the next time I feel pulled away?
  7. What did I learn today about how I relate to time?

At the end of the week, use what you learned from this practice to plan your week ahead, and continue this practice until you feel clear and confident about how you respond to interruptions.

One last thing: A note about how habits change over time.

When you consistently engage with the self-awareness practices I teach (like this one!), you may not notice a significant change from one day to another, but you will begin to see a series of shifts over time. The progression will likely look something like this:

  • At first you’ll realize, after the fact, that you engaged in habitual behavior.
  • After several days of self-observation, you’ll notice the behavior sooner, but still with hindsight.
  • Soon, you’ll begin to catch yourself in the act. However, because the old habit is still strong, you’ll engage in the behavior. This time, though, with more awareness.
  • Soon, you’ll begin noticing your impulse before resorting to the old habit. Instead of engaging, you’ll consciously choose to interrupt your automatic tendency and do something more effective in the heat of the moment. Choosing to refrain can feel quite uncomfortable and requires deliberate practice.
  • Eventually, your new response becomes so habitual that you no longer have to pay conscious attention. Your old habit is a thing of the past, and it’s as if your new behavior magically arises from within you.

I’d love to hear from you!

What has helps you stay focused when you get interrupted? And, what questions do you have about how to do this?

Please share your comments below! I look forward to hearing from you.

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