2 Ways I Fight Distraction


a key to success is learning to focus on one thing at a time

Rein in the brain

I get distracted easily. Way too easily.

There are two practices that refocus my brain and heart:

1. Do the Next Simplest Action: This is especially helpful at work. I just pick up one piece of paper or open one email and do the very next action related to that piece of paper or email. Then I move on to the next one thing. I get traction, and then I’m off to the races.

2. Boil It All Down: This method works when my mind is wandering or when I’m generally confused about my priorities, whether at home or at work or anywhere. I remind myself what life boils down to. In my world, that means (a) faith, (b) care for my personal mental, spiritual, and physical health, (c) my wife, and (d) my children. Then I do the next thing that makes sense in light of those priorities.

I inject myself in as the second item on that list of priorities because if my physical, mental, or spiritual health is spiraling, I’m no good to anybody.

Note that I’m not talking about spending all day playing golf or the slots in Vegas or Cherokee (redneck Vegas). I’m talking about making sure I’m rested, eating well, spending time in prayer and with friends who encourage and challenge me, and learning.

That’s how I battle distractions or how I refocus myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

  • Do the next simplest thing.
  • Boil down your priorities.

Those two things work for me.

How about you? How do you bring your mind and heart back into focusing on the right things?

I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

It’s Hard Work

Being a parent, that is.

It’s not always hard. And it’s beautiful, if you take the process of parenting as a whole.

My sense is that if you ever feel a little useless at it, then that means you give a crap, and you’re probably doing a lot more right than you realize.

That said, it’s never a bad thing to phone a friend or ask an older mentor to help sift through some of the bits of turmoil here and there.

We’re not born into being perfect parents. Just like our parents weren’t perfect.

It takes work. It’s hard work. It’s good work, though.

Those little guys and girls are worth it.


Being a Better Dad By Being Less Disciplined

E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.  –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life

My Mornings with Maggie

There are three important morning disciplines I try to shove into my schedule between the time I wake up and the time I get my daughter up for school at 6:30:

  1. Exercise
  2. Devotional time
  3. Writing

I also have a morning chore so as to make my wife feel smiley about me later: I empty the dishwasher.

School is almost over, so I have 2 and 1/2 more weeks left where it’s just my daughter and I up in the morning (with the occasional visit from one of our sons who inevitably wake up and want food or a drink or help with the remote at just the ‘right’ time – you parents of small children probably understand).

The problem is that 6:30 comes well before I’m done with my three disciplines.

I always push to get a bit more writing in, so I get her up at 6:40 instead of 6:30. Then we rush and I’m way more grumpy than I’d like to be.

I’m like an ornery drill sergeant barking orders:

“Eat your breakfast!”

“Brush your hair!”

“Brush your teeth!”

“Where are your socks?!?”

It’s funny because sometimes it’s like she doesn’t even notice my curmudgeonly lack of patience. She just keeps trying to talk to me and tell me little stories and share her morning thoughts (which are many). To use the old well-worn joke, if you looked up ‘Morning Person’ in the dictionary, high likelihood you’d find a picture of my daughter.

How can I ever be grumpy when I get pictures like these?

How can I ever be grumpy when I get pictures like these?

I’m grumpy because I didn’t get either exercise, devotions, or writing in. Now we’re running late (because I didn’t wake her in time). All she wants to do is talk. All I want to do is move her through the morning process.

The Clash of Disciplines, Parenting, and Being a Dad (or Mom)

The reason why I included the longish quotation above is because is that, although I’ve not written a novel, it seems to be a lot like life – as Doctorow lays it out and Lamott observes.

We can plan out the structure of our lives and decide on the goals for all our efforts. We can instill disciplines (personal and family-focused) in order to get us there. We can set our schedules in order to accomplish our disciplines.

But then there’s this thing about who is sitting right there with me, two or three feet in front of me. Eating her cereal and drinking her juice. That person could care less about what my endgame is. She just wants her daddy to listen to her.

I’m so dead-set on getting her to be diligent about her morning routine while I harbor latent frustration that I didn’t get my stuff done. I fail to enjoy those little morning moments nearly as much as I should.

We never ultimately know where our children will end up. But I have a feeling if we milk every bit of face time we can with them, then our chances are much better that things will end up more fine than not fine.

Seeing Two or Three Feet In Front of Me

Novelists often try to force their characters into prearranged story lines. According to Doctorow, that doesn’t always work. Sometimes the novelist has to simply be present with the character in each moment and help that character make the next decision.

The original plot line might get preempted by the growth of the characters, rendering the original plot lines dishonest, if the novelist forces the characters into them against their will.

I’m taking a long way to say this: I have written plans that should lead to having a fulfilling and meaningful relationship with my wife and children. But real life and relationship don’t happen on paper. They happen when we sit two or three feet away from someone else and do the next right thing with them. We listen. We share. We laugh.

Plans are guides. They are helpful guides, but they are simply our vision of an ideal future and our best guesses as to what disciplines will lead us to that vision of an ideal future.

Intentional, Yet Present

It’s good to be intentional and to identify the disciplines, both personally and relationally, that we should build into the flow of our time that should lead to hoped for results.

But we also have to learn how to read the room. It’s much more important to be absolutely present in any given situation than it is to be preoccupied with whether we checked our boxes off or not.

To appeal to Scripture, Jesus was extremely focused on His mission, yet how many times was he interrupted? He would take those moments and care specifically for the person who came to Him.

My disciplines are fine. And, honestly, sometimes Maggie requires some firm encouragement to move things along. She’s 7. But the main thing? Listening to my daughter (or my boys or my wife if any or all of them happen to be around).

How long will my daughter try to talk to me if I have to shush her so I can get other things done? At 7 years old, she can be as persistent as Sam I Am in Green Eggs and Ham. She really won’t let me not listen.

When will she give up or become less excited about sharing her stories with me? Will I look up and two or three feet in front of me will be a blank stare and a steady diet of those grunted faves of teens: “Fine”, “Nothing”, “Okay”, and “Whatever”?

So at breakfast… I’m not always completely interested in the stories, but I am interested in Maggie. I want her to know what it means to be listened to and be heard.

Someday, I’ll need her to hear me, and if she’s not used to being heard by me, will she actually listen to what I have to say when it’s something she really needs to hear?

The dishes can wait. God will understand if I don’t have 5 more minutes of prayer. My body won’t die if I don’t get my jog/walk in.

It’s that girl across the table, two or three feet away, that’s important.

Will the 75 Year Old Me Be Happy with the 42 Year Old Me?

I ran a 5K recently. It was my first in a few years.

After the 3.1 miles, while I was grabbing a banana and a bottle of water, I had a short conversation with a guy I ran into there from church.

We both are in our early 40s and lamented the fact that it’s getting harder and harder to force our bodies back into shape after an exercise lay-off.

I said, off-the-cuff, “I figure if I want to be able to do something like this at 75, I better get on it now.”

Photo Credit: MomoFotografi via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: MomoFotografi via Compfight cc

There were plenty of guys deep into their 60s and 70s that easily passed me throughout the 3.1 mile race. I want to be one of those guys.

While my initial reaction out on the course when one of these fellows scampered by was sadness and depression, I slowly started finding encouragement, even inspiration.

I want to be running a 5K and lapping some middle-aged dad and encouraging that dad that he needs to bow up and quit being a couch potato.

My mind seldom allows me to stop at my health and fitness. Sure I want to be fit and able to run or play tennis at 75 (don’t get me started on how I’d gotten my butt handed to me quite a few times in the local singles tennis league by men much older than I).

What else do I want to be true of me at 75?

  • How do I envision my marriage at 75?
  • How do I want to relate to my sons and daughter when I’m 75?
  • What do I want to be true of my walk with Jesus at 75?
  • How about my financial situation?
  • And my work… how will I want to look back at my effort and effectiveness at work?

Now, back to present day:

Are the things I’m doing right now leading to the results I want at 75?

Perhaps the more important question is this: Will the things I’m doing now lead to a much better ‘now’? I don’t want to just end up at 75 and be able to be happy with all of my answers.

Sure I want to be a healthy, fit, financially secure, relationally fulfilled old dude. But more importantly, I want to be a healthy, fit, financially responsible, relationally present person right now.

String together enough ‘right nows’ and you’ll end up at 75 pretty pleased with the results.

At least that’s my guess. Let’s see what happens.


When The Suburbs Kick Your A**

A slice of North Fulton Suburban Heaven

A slice of North Fulton Suburban Heaven

I realize that most of the problems we have out in the suburbs are first world problems. But problems, as they say, are problems.

And at times the pressure to have it all, crowds out the wisdom of waiting, and in the end, you don’t really have it all. You collect trinkets and debt and borrowed vacations.

I’m a lot like a lot of folks who can’t help but yearn after the ridiculous number of Disney and other vacations that I see fly across my Facebook feed. Seriously. It feels like we’re the only family that, you know, goes to a city park. Everybody else is in Destin or Turks and freaking Caicos. What kind of name is that anyway “Turks and Caicos”?

Of course, when I have had the good fortune to hit a beach, I bombard Instagram too. “See! my family can wear all white and walk along the surf, too! Suck it land-locked losers!” (you can tweet that).

But over time, it starts to weigh me down. First of all, I’m not nearly as materially successful as I was supposed to be at this point. Just ask any of my 3rd level acquaintances on Facebook. I was a smart kid… who chose to be an English major and then go to seminary to change the world. That plan went awry. And my version of smart has been a slow study in the business world.

Now I have that job that all of your kids are dreaming of right now. Right after playing baseball and becoming a ballerina for a living. You guessed it. I sell insurance. And I’m not all that good at it. I’m great at explaining insurance, but I’m not the best salesguy there is.

Consequently, I hover in the middle. We’re just well off enough to live in North Fulton (it’s a nice area), but not quite well off enough to live the North Fulton lifestyle. And what upsets me most is that I actually give a crap about that. The seminary me wouldn’t have cared a whole lot about it, although I did run up some debt back then, too, so apparently I’ve always had a little bit of the consumer in me.

But now with a family, I want to be able to do the soccer thing and get my daughter into dance and post a fun video about surprising the kids when we pick them up at school because we’re going to Disney World. We do some stuff here and there, but Dave Ramsey would probably tell us to watch it. Still, I’m human and I want to do a lot more… for my wife, for my kids (maybe a little more for me too).

Why I call this post ‘When the Suburbs Kick Your Ass’ is this: I’m tired. I’m tired of not feeling like I’m keeping up. Heck. I just want to replace the old railroad tie retaining wall rotting in my backyard and chop a tree or two down so we can play back there. Keeping up isn’t even on the radar. I’m still trying to find my running shoes.  I know they’re around here somewhere.

Perhaps I just have a case of the Mondays. :-) Go back to watching the NCAA Finals.