Today we all have a lot on our minds. We are constantly thinking about our to-do lists, who we need to contact, our schedules, meetings, family obligations, dinner, you name it.
I’m sure you’ve been in this situation before. A time when you are in a meeting or listening to a presentation and suddenly the tendency for the mind to drift off thinking about all the various things we need to do when we get out of this meeting begins. The truth of the matter is, these distractions prevent us from focusing on what is going on in our current surroundings. It impairs our ability to learn and oftentimes we miss critical elements of what’s going on or what is being told to us.
For me personally, it is usually “a trigger word” that the speaker uses that gets my mind on to another subject. Let me give an example: Perhaps I am in a meeting where the speaker mentions having “time pressure” for a certain project. The words “time pressure” mentally triggers my task list. Immediately, I start wondering if there is something I’m forgetting. Inevitably, I start running down my list of tasks one-by-one which in fact does not give my mind the clarity to listen to what the speaker is saying. For you, your trigger may be something else. Even if you work from home, you can still lose focus. It could be sights such as pictures on the wall, computer screensavers or a co-worker’s doodle on their notepad.
So how do we stop ourselves from drifting off into other thoughts and worries while someone else is speaking or while we are supposed to be paying attention? If not dealt with, people may think you are ignoring them. Perhaps they will follow up with you later asking if you have done your part of the project, when you completely missed what your part even was! (Remember? You were thinking about something else when they told you that the “TPS Report” was due tomorrow and needed your input?)
One method I have been using for several years to combat this mind wandering type of behavior is to bring one or two index cards or my journal and a pen to every meeting, seminar or church service I attend. I keep the note cards or my journal handy so when these type of mind wandering items pop into my head, and they always do, I can immediately jot down a word or two to remind me about it later on. By doing so, I can then refocus on what the speaker is saying.
Here’s how it works. When listening to a presentation, if I’m feeling anxiety about my task list, I will write down “review tasks” on my note card. Then, I immediately say to myself “Done! Now I can listen.” By doing this 5 second exercise, my mind becomes free to re-focus on what the speaker is saying. The speaker probably thinks at this point that I’m writing down something he or she said. So there is no offense taken.
Many times all I need to do is write down one word. After all, it was one word that got me into distraction — so one word will most likely get me out. As an example, if the speaker is talking about e-mailing to the network group, the word “e-mailing” may trigger in my mind a thought like “Oh yeah, I need to reply to Bob‘s e-mail!” So all I need to do is write down the word “Bob” on my index card or in my journal, say my mantra of “Done! And, I’m back to listening.” Later, when I review my index card I see only the word “Bob” and like the word “email” was a trigger, the word “Bob” is a trigger too. I remember I will need to e-mail him back. See how quick and easy this is?
After the meeting, I place the index card into my pocket; the same place I keep my car keys. Keeping the card in a place I can’t avoid ensures I will find it later. So when I reach in my pocket to get my car keys, the index card is there reminding me I have a few things to do. That way, I am not misplacing the list or forgetting that I need to add items to my task list. For me, this simple strategy has cut back on a lot of stress and anxiety that I’ve felt over the years since I started using it. It allows me to focus better during meetings instead of missing things that people have said. When the speaker has my full attention, I learn better and I can get more done without the stress and extended distraction.