The Power of Distraction

Lately, I’ve been easily distracted. I have a lot on the to-do list, and I often start several projects and do them in turn. Sometimes this is fun, sometimes it wears me down faster than a piece of chalk in the rain.

Oh, look, a chicken! Is my way of acknowledging distractions.

When it’s fun, I zip from project to project, moving each one ahead until I get impatient, then move on to the next. I love working this way. My mind says fresh and the work gets done.

And then it doesn’t. Suddenly, the projects aren’t separate anymore. The part that comes next is difficult, or I don’t know how to do it. Leaping to another project feels like I’m abandoning the old one.

Before you wonder if I have adult ADD, I do not. I can work for hours in deep concentration. Sometimes, I like to plow through work, and hopping from job to job makes me feel like I’m getting something accomplished.

When I grind to a halt, I almost always feel overwhelmed. What to do next? What’s urgent? What’s easy? What stage is the laundry in? Do I need to run to the post office when it’s not busy?

I’ve found a question that helps me make the most of distraction. The question comes courtesy of Bonnie Barnard, who will look at me kindly and ask “Is this yours to do?” For someone like me, a recovering fixer, perfectionist and stayer-in-action, the question brings me to a complete stop. What work is mine to do? Notice that it doesn’t say “next’ or “now.” It asks a huge spiritual question of what I am destined to do.

Still, it’s a perfect question to ask when you are distracted or scattered, overwhelmed or just dragging. What is yours to do? For me, it makes the work of my hands and mind important again. Each movement needs to be deliberate, if this is my work to do. I need to do the work that is mine to do carefully.

“Overwhelmed” for me means I am repeating a list of items to do in my head, and they are out of order. Or confused. Or mixed by wrong categories–by time needed to completion instead of by materials.

By asking myself “What is mine to do?” I stop the senseless spinning, like a CD searching for a track, and get emotional traction. I can then more easily separate portions of the job that are waiting for others to contact me. And sometimes, I realize I’m trying too hard to control a project that is not mine to do.

Almost always, when I ask “What is mine to do?” I create a small hole in time as I sit still, or stretch and remember what I am here for. And then I know what is mine to do.

Quinn McDonald finds that a spiritual life can also be a practical life.