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Disabling Your Distractibility

By Brad Isaac

Goal oriented people have a lot on their minds. We are constantly thinking about our To-Do lists, who we need to contact, our schedules, meetings, family obligations, barbecues you name it. As such, when we are in a meeting or listening to a presentation there may be a tendency for the mind to drift off thinking about what we need to do when we get out of this meeting. 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 trainer 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 trigger in my mind my task list. Immediately, I start wondering if there something I'm forgetting? Inevitably I may start running down my list of tasks one by one which in a fact does not give my mind the clarity to listen to what the speaker is saying. For you, your trigger may be something else. 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 you if you have done your part of the project, when you were not aware of what your part 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 and a pen to every meeting, seminar or church service I attend. I keep the note card handy so when these type of mind wandering items pop into my head, 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.

Using the example above where I may be feeling anxiety about my task list I simply 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 probably 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 e-mail Bob!!" So all I need to do is write down the word "Bob" on my index card say my mantra of "Done! Now I can listen." 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. See how quick and easy this is?

After the meeting, I place the index card into my front pants 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'd need to add items to my task list.

This method has cut back on a lot of stress and anxiety that I've felt over the years since I started using it. It lets me focus better during meetings instead of forgetting things that people have said. Since the individual has my full attention, I learn better and we can get more done.

About The Author

Brad Isaac (The Goal Guru) is the creator of Achieve-IT! Goal Setting software for Pocket PC. He has made human achievement and motivation a study for over 20 years. You can subscribe to his newsletter by sending an email to and visit his blog at or


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