Archive for 2011

New Pathways – Experiences with Distraction: Part 4

Posted on: November 2nd, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

By Gale Long, guest blogger

Learning – I discovered that I spend large amounts of time in distractions and often don’t even know it. It occurred to me that I was so completely and varyingly distracted that I wasn’t even conscious of it.

I think I have very cleverly learned to use distraction for a variety of reasons. They allow me to escape from pressing and/or distasteful tasks. They allow me to rest and gain distance from tasks. They sometimes lead to delightful discoveries (just often enough it seems to keep me chasing them).


Bringing my thinking patterns into awareness is valuable. Naming my distractions gives me more choices regarding how I live with them. I’ve built most of my mental pathways. I can build new, more effective thought patterns if I’m willing to invest the time and the attention.


  • Catch distractions at the time they interrupt.
  • Keep a log.
  • Categorize and construct countermeasures.
  • Check for improvement.
  • Repeat as needed.
  • Use the recovered effectiveness (time and energy) to move on to new challenges.

New Pathways – Experiences with Distraction: Part 3

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

By Gale Long, guest blogger

Solutions – In a virtual workshop practicing change through small steps (the workshop is built around the study of a book by Robert Maurer, One Small Step Can Change your Life:  The Kaizen Way), I committed to emailing my coach each day after “catching” (becoming aware) of a distraction, naming the distraction if possible. This accountability to my coach gave me a higher likelihood of being aware of the distractions. I also kept a trail (log) of the distractions which gave me the ability to describe the distraction, see patterns, and record the contexts that produced derailments.

I also increased my capacity to notice distractions through renewing my meditation practice.  I believe that the same “neuro-muscles” that allow me to “return attention to my breath” are the same muscles I need to notice distractions and choose whether and/or when to chase them.

I learned to make a note of the distraction at the time I was distracted. For me, catching distractions is akin to remembering dreams. If I don’t make a note while they are still present they melt away into the ether.

I caught and logged tens of distractions. Over the last several weeks I’ve caught at least one distracting thought most days and sent a short email description to my effectiveness coach.

I named the distractions, sorted them into categories, and developed countermeasures.

Here are some of my many distractions and countermeasures:

Multi-taxing – While I may think I’m juggling well, I’m really losing effectiveness and taxing my mental resources. (My wife Bonnie coined the term multi-taxing and it fits well with David Rock’s work regarding multi-tasking described in his book Your Brain At Work.) Do one thing at a time, from a priority list.

My Amygdala – Noticing variation is what kept my ancestors from being devoured – it’s just my brain. Accept the reality of my hard wiring. Choose to chase the distraction or remain on task.

Shopping Therapy – Make a list and take it with you. Choose intentionally.

Screen Suck – A term learned from Dr. Edward M. Hallowell’s Crazy Busy. It applies to wandering around in my email, on the internet or surfing TV. Enjoy if I have idle time, otherwise be wary, and choose before chasing.

Going Overboard – Getting into the minutiae of a project at the expense of the pace. Step back and ask if I’m doing what’s most important.

Misplaced Rewards – Are you following a pleasurable path at the expense of your task? Ask if what I’m doing right now is relevant or coasting and then choose.

Drama–Poor me – Be aware/name/choose. Wallow or get back in the game.

I’ll get this later when I’m going that direction – Put away now so you don’t get side tracked.

Interesting but unimportant – Name, then toss or list for later.

Legitimate Distractions – Some are real and important. Welcome/choose/act.

Pressure Coping – Name and then choose to return to priority or chase distraction on purpose if relief is necessary.

Analysis Paralysis – Be wary. Recognize. Choose. Act. Fail fast is OK. 

Context – Act or remove distraction.

How to Set Priorities: Weeds, Hinges and Mosquitoes

Posted on: October 27th, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

By Annette Organ, guest blogger

Setting priorities can be tricky for all of us. When we’re overwhelmed, not knowing where to start can often immobilize us and derail our best intentions. Here are a few guidelines that may help you decide where to begin.

1. Weeds: Any task that grows bigger the longer you ignore it.

Weeds in the garden fall into this category. Pull them when they are small and much easier to remove. This analogy can also apply to regular medical check-ups, eating right, and getting the oil changed. Keep small tasks like these from growing into a big problem later on by making them a priority.

2. Hinges: A task that hinges on completing another task first.

An example would be: “I need to vacuum the car — but I can’t until I first unload all that recycling.” The second task hinges on the first. Another example is a laundry basket full of clean clothes (not yet folded and put away) keeping you from transporting the next load of dirty laundry. Clutter piled on top of the washing machine making it hard to access. Any task that interferes with a tool needed to accomplish a goal can safely be moved to the top of your To-Do list. Make these “hinges” the priority whenever possible.

3. Mosquitoes: Unfinished tasks that bug you every day.

Any unfinished item in your environment that you see every single day can drain your energy. Move it to the top of the list. The entryway, kitchen, and bathroom are areas of your home where you spend the most time. When you get a visual jolt of unfinished business, it can be very discouraging. That’s why clutter in these key places can really bug you day after day. Why multiply the annoyance? Make that task a priority.

New Pathways – Experiences with Distraction: Part 2

Posted on: October 24th, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

By Gale Long, guest blogger

Actual Condition – I had some rather vague idea of how easily and often I followed the latest “bright, shiny object” that crossed my consciousness, but it wasn’t until I committed to noticing and naming distractions each day that I began to understand how pervasive these mental side roads are in my thinking.

 My level of distraction varies in inverse proportion to how well I’ve prioritized my time. No earth shaking discovery here, but an experiential proof of what I’ve “known” and even “taught.”

My level of distraction is much higher in my home, especially in my office area. There are many unfinished or to be started projects/processes calling for attention and promising easy payoffs. (I spent four days fishing in southern Oregon during my distraction study and was struck by the lack of distraction. I had nothing to do but fish. OK, fly fishing may be the best context for being present that I know, but not having all of the physical traps in the “trappings” of my home environment was stunning. I’m back into removing clutter for a newly appreciated reason.

Challenges or Obstacles to Solving the Problem – My first challenge was to become aware of the distractions. I’ve been working with an organizing coach for several years. We started with my work office and when I retired, we turned our attention to the transition and to my home environment. Like many of my practices in the physical arena, I needed help even noticing my thinking patterns. They are just well worn, old friends I’m so comfortable with I don’t see them. Because I don’t see them I had no trail or data stream that told me what patterns led me astray, or how often it happened.  Similarly I had no knowledge of the contexts where distractions are most likely or the circumstances most likely to trigger them.

 Which Obstacles Did I Address? – First, I had to become better at noticing and noting my distractions.  Second, I had to develop my capacity to choose between following the distraction and returning to task.   

Part 3 will be posted later this week.

New Pathways – Experiences with Distraction: Part 1

Posted on: October 20th, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

By Gale Long, guest blogger

Theme – As part of my ongoing efforts to become more intentional, I decided I wanted to increase my awareness of how I get distracted. My “theory” in this context is that if I can become more aware of when and how I get distracted, I will increase my chances of inserting a conscious choice between the “stimulus” (distraction) and “response” (chase the distraction or return to task). Further, I believe if I can “name” distractions I will gain more leverage for managing them.

Desired Condition – I want to be able to recognize what distracts me and when. I want to be able to choose to follow distractions, dismiss them or make note of them for future consideration. I want to be able to stay on task at my discretion, not at the mercy of the distraction. I want to have a tool kit of distraction countermeasures I can select from when needed. I want to build and maintain a log of distractions to track improvement.

(Stay tuned for Part 2-4 that will be posted over the next week.)

Having the Experience but Missing the Meaning – Part 1

Posted on: September 12th, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

David Rock uses the analogy of creating a new path in an uncharted forest to describe the process of creating a new habit.  It’s slow going at first, but once you’ve traveled the path many times, it becomes a habit.

But what happens if you meet something unexpected on a path you’ve traveled many times?

That’s exactly what happened to my sister and me recently while we were hiking on a path near Lake Tahoe that we’ve traveled many times.  We met a bear!

Fortunately the bear turned right while my sister and I hurriedly turned left and walked as fast as we could back to our car.  In pondering the meaning of this experience, I recalled some lines written by T.S. Eliot in The Dry Salvages, “We had the experience but missed the meaning. And approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.”

What was the meaning of this potentially dangerous encounter?

Taking One Small Step

Posted on: August 22nd, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

Here is the link to an article I just discovered about taking one small steps (and it’s by someone other than Robert Maurer, the author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life).  I thought you might enjoy it.

I invite you to subscribe to this blog so you’ll get notices whenever I add something new.

I look forward to hearing about your successes and bright spots with small steps!

Small Steps by a Volunteer Firefighter

Posted on: August 12th, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

I invite you to watch this clip from a TED video that gives another example of the power of small steps by Mark Bezos, a volunteer firefighter!

Matt Cutts on TED – 30-Day Challenge

Posted on: July 23rd, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

Matt’s 3-minute talk as part of the TED Series is about taking small steps.  I think you’ll enjoy watching!  Are you game for his 30-day challenge?

Mensa Presentation to Full House

Posted on: July 4th, 2011 by TFSwp No Comments

More than 70 Mensa members who were in Portland for Mensa’s 2011 national conference, A Great Journey West, June 30 – July 4, attended my workshop, Time Management – Small Steps to Profound Change, on July 2.  This workshop reframed how to approach problems, be they big or small.  It offered new ways to make profound changes through small steps.  It explained what happens in the brain when we try to change and why we get stuck.  It explained why “kaizen” (small steps) activates our brain instead of shutting down.  Emphasis was on using kaizen to better manage time and get more organized.  You can find a copy of the hand-out by clicking on the link below.

Using Small Steps to Create Profound Change