Avoiding the Distraction Trap: Purposeful Mindlessness, 1 at a Time

Do you multi-task when you’re watching TV?

If you’re like me you’re probably flipping through 3 or more shows at once. All the while you’re also toggling between checking emails, Facebook, twitter, online newspapers, and text messages.

distractionsIt’s embarrassing to admit that I’ll typically have 3 or more distraction traps (TV remote, phone, tablet, and/or computer) within arms length reach at the same time. Each of them has two or more things open at once. When all of them are added up I can easily have 10+ mindless things going on at once. It’s no wonder that time seems to disappear when I turn on the TV.

I know the television is my distraction gateway drug so I try to limit how much I use it. That was easier when I lived alone. I had complete control over my home environment and consciously cut the cable on my television. That’s not an option now that I’m temporarily living with my parents, but avoiding the TV is still manageable most of the time.

When I visit my sister Mary, as I did last weekend, the distractions are completely unmanageable. My sister’s husband enjoys vegging out watching TV and playing on the internet when he’s home. (He works hard and deserves to do so.) While I’m visiting, I mirror his behavior and do the same. And I feel sick with information overload each night when I go to sleep.

MattFoleyYou may be rolling your eyes right now. I get it. I’m complaining about being on vacation, but my type A tendencies can only be quelled in short bursts. This is true even in normal circumstances, but it’s magnified now that I’m unemployed. I’ll probably start having nightmares of living with my parents indefinitely or living in a van down by the river like Matt Foley if I let myself slide too much and for too long.

QuicksandFortunately, the visit to my sister’s was a temporary situation. I’m back home now, playing catch up and getting back into my regular routine. So I don’t need to lose sleep over my distraction overload now. I even picked up a new idea during the trip to keep me out of distraction quicksand that I’m going to experiment with in the future.

Against my better judgment I started watching the show Billions last weekend. I couldn’t help myself. My sister has Showtime. I was half drunk and fully distracted when I stumbled upon it.

Billions

The show kept my attention enough to not change the channel, but I felt it could offer me more. At first I couldn’t put my finger on what the show was missing. I finally realized it was lacking was my full attention.

TinderI was only partially enjoying Billions as I swiped my way through Tinder to see how many beautiful girls live in the beltway. (Spoiler alert: DC has lots of pretty girls around. Go figure…)

It occurred to me that I would probably appreciate (and enjoy) Billions much more if I watched it with my full attention. So I left my phone and computer in a separate room.

Without other distractions Billions went from pretty good to totally awesome! It may be the next ‘it’ TV series like Breaking Bad or The Americans. Maybe it could even be the next Sopranos or The Wire!

Going forward, I’m resolving to watch TV sans phone, tablet, and computer. If I’m going to do something mindless to relax I might as well immerse myself in it. If it can’t hold my attention alone then it’s not worth spending any time on.

Many distractions are unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you should invite them all into your life all at once. Everyone needs downtime to relax, but multi-tasking downtime is not relaxing it’s exhausting.

The next time you’re watching TV I suggest leaving all your other devices on the charger. They’ll be there when you return. I promise.

Thanks for reading.

Don

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