HOW TO: Manage Distractions

We all have them. Distractions.

Some can be anticipated: phone ringing, office visitors, emails. But some can’t: power outage, tension or conflict, family emergencies, noise.

In the church, there should be a theology of distractions. Some distractions invite us to share God’s grace and love in unexpected ways with each other (think Good Samaritan). But some distractions are invitations to get off mission and off focus and not do the hard work of ministry.

So what do you do with distractions?

  1. Communicate – It is important to communicate with those around what your cues and boundaries are for distractions. My dad always writes his sermon outline on Tuesday afternoon. We knew that if we called the church on Tuesday afternoon that the office assistant would ask us “is this an emergency?” and would only interrupt if the answer was “yes.” In recent months, I have added the tag line “if you need a response within the hour, please call.” to the bottom of my emails. It has allowed me the freedom to step away from my computer without feeling that I was going to miss an urgent or important message.
  2. Welcome and Eliminate – The spirit in which you address distractions can be healthy or unhealthy. One of the best ways that I have found to prepare my spirit and space for distraction is to visualize my response to a variety of distractions. If someone from out of town stops by my office to say hello, I would welcome a brief conversation. If someone drops by my office every day at 10am for two weeks, I would work to eliminate this rhythm. If you play out a few “what-if” situations in your head, then you answer will be tailored to the circumstance, not just a blanket no (or yes) to the interruption.
  3. Urgent or Important – One of the best tools that I use is my urgent and important matrix. In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was quoting Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” (To read more…) When I consider if the item is urgent or important, then I am better able to  react in an appropriate way and time. Not everything needs immediate response and not everything warrants a response at all.

How do you manage distractions and interruptions in your day? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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