I do not want to be in a state of Permanent Distraction!

Greetings friends,

We wanted to remind you that our June 2014 8-week MBSR Class is filling up very quickly.  Please do remind friends who may be interested to register as soon as possible.  Thank you!

We are also happy to share a guest post by Carlos Gutierrez.  Carlos attended one of our 8-week MBSR classes a few years back with his wife.  He continues to benefit from his mindfulness practices.

“I do not want to be in a state of Permanent Distraction!”

January 27th, 2014

Carlos Gutierrez

A recent article on Mindful Leadership was ‘eye-opening’ to me as I personally face the increasing challenges of our work environment.  As the article states, we are all facing “a daily entanglement of problems and plans, conflicts and worries that make up our fast-paced days”.  So our minds have to perform this unstoppable dance of balancing, prioritizing, context-switching, interrupt jumping…  well, how else can we get everything done?  Multi-tasking, of course!

Well, not so fast!  As I continued to read and invest time on how I can personally improve as a leader, I realize that multi-tasking is really not an answer.  Recent research continues to demonstrate how inefficient we are when we are constantly servicing interrupts.  At the end of our days, we feel really good about the fact that we have been “effective multi-taskers”.  After all, we have spent our day putting out so many great fires!  In reality, we are “serial-taskers”:  we switch serially from one problem to the next one, in fast succession, in many cases looping back constantly to try to get to our original goals.  I am sure you also have days when you wondered what you have accomplished, aside from jumping through a series of endless micro-tasks that did not really align to your original goals and priorities for the day.

Since reading several articles over the holidays, and thinking about how I can personally improve, I have been quietly observing myself and those around me.  I found myself very distracted, easily reaching for my next email, or action item, or text message, or pop-up notice, or cell phone buzz…, while I am trying to get a task accomplished.  Attention to urgent matters is important for myself and all of us in our roles; don’t get me wrong, it is the nature of our demanding business.   But I believe that excessive attention to ALL distractions significantly erodes our productivity.  We are not efficient at switching context and loosing our main thread.

In particular, I have been observing the meetings that I attended since the beginning of the year:  my un-scientific observation is that at least 4 out of 10 attendees are mentally not present at any point in the meeting, and in doing so, 4 out of 10 are losing valuable communication, and 10 out of 10 are losing valuable interaction, even if the topic may not seem relevant to those 4 team members.  4 out of 10 of us, (myself included!) drift in and out of a meeting to continue our “serial-tasking”.  There was one notable exception:  one leader, in particular, impressed me and gave me a model to aim for:  he shows up to every meeting with only a blank piece of paper and a pen, phone put away, no laptop, and 100% of his attention on the topic in the front of the meeting room!

At a personal level, I am working on improving the quality of my 1-1 meetings as well:  I found that while I am trying to listen to the person right in front of me, my mind wanders to urgent topics that want to direct me away, instead of really being present with full attention and support for my peer.

Having completed our Transformation phase from 2011 through 2013, the R&D organization faces two interesting challenges across the next two years:  (1) we are beginning to execute in our Acceleration phase, and (2), we are evolving our world-wide team from “Storming” to “Performing” as defined by Tuckman’s model of development  [Reference #4].  I strongly believe that it is very important for us to improve our personal presence, our focus, our mindfulness, and in turn, the quality of our communications; these are high standards in any world-class team.  The article on Mindful Leadership reflects on an environment of communication excellence where we each have a strong connection to our peers and the larger organization; quoting directly from the article:

“The work of developing leadership presence through mindfulness begins by recognizing how much time we spend in a mental state that has come to be called Continuous Partial Attention”

So, what is on my mind?   Two key lessons from the articles I researched are heavy on my mind:

1. We need to create the space between our endless urgent activities and our long-term goals.   To me, this means that I need to invest time to think across a longer horizon to mindfully consider our team evolution and our Acceleration phase, instead of letting myself fall on the constant and inefficient cycle of “serial-tasking”.

2. We must create true connections with people around us by improving your presence and active listening.  If I show up to your meeting, I will connect with you;  I will not be “multi-tasking or “serial-tasking”; I will be paying even closer attention to what you and those around us have to say.

In summary, I am going to work hard to avoid the state of Continuous Partial Attention, or in my own words, the state of Permanent Distraction.

We are all leaders in what we do… I invite you think about these key lessons and to work on being mindful leaders!



(1) http://www.mindful.org/at-work/leadership/finding-the-space-to-lead

(2) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201103/technology-myth-multitasking

(3) http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/08/21/0903620106.full.pdf+html

(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckman%27s_stages_of_group_development