The Distracted Leader

Picture a distraction

Leaders and aspiring leaders learn to value (and protect) their schedules. An organized schedule is an important tool for any leader.

But all too often we find that even with the best scheduling systems and gatekeepers, things get in the way. Even if you use the Covey/Eisenhower matrix[1] to good advantage and seem to live your business life in Quadrant Two, stuff happens to slow you down.

Unless you lead from an ivory tower, you have certainly had one of those days when organizational distractions take over and your productivity suffers.

I’m not going to address the distractions that come from within your organization: that’s another topic for another day. I’m talking about the external distractions that pop up during the day, even in the ivory tower. The thoughts of home, worries about your kids, or the song on the radio that brings back memories or makes you wonder “who is the artist that did that?”

I’m talking about those distractions. I believe that these can wreak havoc with our productivity. Particularly if you work in a creative field.

I am a naturally curious person. I have spent many enjoyable hours pursuing topics that pique my interest. I did this pre-internet, and access to the web only made it worse. Recently, some of those have even stimulated blog posts. I have gained knowledge about many interesting things. In fact, a coworker calls me a “veritable fountain of useless information,” and I consider that a compliment. But these intellectual journeys have probably not furthered my career, and they certainly haven’t enhanced my bottom line.

So how do you deal with those distractions?

May I suggest a few options, none of which work exceptionally well for me.Brain relaxation

  1. Take a “brain break.” Just like when you take a break to stretch your legs and/or use the restroom. Most people tend to observe a time limit on those breaks. Take a ten-minute brain break, and give your brain some exercise. I enjoy for breaks like this, but be warned: this wonderful trivia site will cause you to violate your self-imposed time limits.
  2. Keep a “Distraction To-Do List.” Jot down the random thoughts and questions that arise that you might to revisit at a more opportune time. So when you wonder who that was that played organ on that one Eric Clapton song (those are the kind of questions I have: not the guitarists, like the rest of my friends), write it down in a notebook and return to it later. Another warning: if you look at other questions after you write down the new one, you’ll be off on a new tangent.
  3. Take a break from the distraction. Perhaps this bears explanation. When you find distracting thoughts creeping in, perhaps that is the time to take your bathroom break. Sometimes you’ll return ready to get back to business. Or not. But it can be worth it at times to try to distract yourself back from your distraction. Really.
  4. Finally the obvious one. Shut down the tabs that distract you at work, like your e-mail. Seriously. That only needs to be checked twice a day, max. Distraction
    Find some good neutral music that won’t make you start wondering about other things. Personally, I find Baroque music good for this. Composers such as Telemann, Corelli and others of their period are almost like “generic classical music.” Vivaldi started composing pieces that sound more distinct, and thus more distracting.[2] These Baroque pieces also create momentum. They will get into your subconscious and keep you moving forward as you work.

The bottom line, in my mind, is that avoiding distractions takes self-discipline. Often more self-discipline than I have. So sometimes I just have to give in and enjoy a good distraction. Mind you, I am referring to intellectual distraction, productive distraction, exploring ideas and questions. I’m not suggesting a Facebook or Snapchat binge. These are counterproductive, and often a Facebook binge leads to additional distractions.

Brain exercises

For example, on Foghat’s fan page when they post Mott the Hoople’s classic tune “All the Way from Memphis” and you start wondering what ever happened to Mott the Hoople?

But I will have to continue this later: I’ve become distracted …


A good leader manages distractions well.


DISCLOSURE: Although I am an avid reader and have subscribed to Mental_Floss for many years, I have no financial interest in the company.

[1] Google these. They are great tools. But remember that Eisenhower beat Covey to the punch.

[2] Yes I said that. I know I have just offended the one reader who adores Telemann and can tell his Tafelmusik from a Concerto.