I can't say when it began, but it's been building for a good while now. Looking for clues, I eavesdrop on conversations I frequently have with myself. I hear myself saying things like, "I'm losing it. I'm out of control. Now, what was it I was going to do? Where did I put that pair of socks?"
I frequently wonder just where it was that I lost my once very reliable span of attention.
This weekend I found myself participating in a little shopping therapy with the girls. One thing led to another, and we found ourselves shopping for argyle socks. There was something very comforting and practical about shopping for warm socks on a cold December day. After making several sensible sock selections, I was feeling quite good about myself.
Back home, I opened my sock drawer to stash my loot. And, lo and behold, there was an exact replica of said socks — one here, one there, unpaired. Apparently someone had rummaged through my sock drawer breaking up the happy union of sock pairs, dispersing them near and far. And it looked like this disturbance had been going on for some time.
Coincidentally, that someone had my identical initials. Busted and guilty, my warm fuzzy feeling evaporated in a fog of confusion.
Would the unseemly sock drawer be the proverbial last straw? Suddenly nothing was more important than to reunite my socks once and for all. It would surely create efficiencies and be worth the investment of time.
Sifting through every single sock and every pair of socks, I found myself surrounded by a shocking pile of unmatched socks. In that moment, I created the No Sock Left Behind Act, which would govern the goings and comings of my sock drawer from this day forward.
Surely there must be a moral to this sad sock story, and I'm getting there. Could there be a simpler task than matching socks and returning them to the sock bin? And yet I had managed to be so distracted so frequently that I had caused this little sock saga.
What did this say about the attention — or lack thereof — I placed on the multitude of other simple tasks I perform? And what about the more complex tasks of my life? Am I alone in this crazy state of distraction? Are others experiencing the "short little span of attention" syndrome, and how much of this is self-inflicted?
Paying attention to what is before us in any particular moment requires an extra amount of discipline these days. Many of us carry our own little distracting device around like a third arm. And while we're always accessible and always have access, it can cause us to jump from one unfinished task to another — and that's just the start.
There are all kinds of interruptions, disruptions and distractions in the workplace. As more and more of us become knowledge workers, the interruption of thought flow can be quite a challenge. It can cause us to come to work earlier, stay later and generally work longer hours to complete tasks.
As we coach groups and individuals to develop more productive working relationships, we hear that habitual multitasking can negatively impact communication. And poor communication patterns can cause problems in quality, productivity and even cause safety issues.
Staying attuned to the task at hand and concentrating until it is complete may be a bit boring at times. However, it can prevent scrap, rework and other forms of waste, like my drawer full of unmatched socks.
The world is full of distraction. And while distraction can be very entertaining — like anything else — it can be excessive. It is our attention after all, and we do have choices about where and how to invest it.