Do you remember the annoying kid in class who, whenever the teacher asked a question, was always waving his arm back and forth, saying “Oh, oh, oh!”  He rarely knew the answer; he just liked the attention.  Well, I often feel like my mornings are controlled by that kid.  Now that I am self-employed, my schedule is mine to keep, including when I get started in the morning.  I prefer to get going on things right away, whether it’s my writing, one of my handyman jobs, or one of the dozens of things on the written and unwritten “To do” list for my house.  But what I prefer to do and what I actually do are sometimes as similar as an asteroid and a dirt clod.

This morning was a perfect example.  I try to maintain a daily discipline of writing Morning Pages, 3 hand-written pages of free writing.  I put on paper whatever is on my mind, whether or not it is coherent or well written.  It’s a way to keep a little writing momentum going, it serves to clear away some of the mental clutter that is waiting for me every morning, and surprisingly, some interesting things come out of it while I’m busy writing and not really thinking.

This morning I decided to go do my Morning Pages at Starbucks where there are fewer distractions.  There’s plenty going on around me at Starbucks, but my options for doing other things are minimized when I have only my notebook and laptop with me.  But as I was stuffing my notebook, laptop, and other necessities into my bag, the annoying kid started waving his arm.

As I walked through the kitchen headed for the door, I decided I should tidy it up from breakfast.  But before I could go very far with that, I would need to empty the dishwasher first to make way for the dirties.  I found a scrap of paper than needed to go in the “To file” pile in my study, so I headed through the house.  The rumpled bed sheets called out from the bedroom, “Straighten us!”  Newspapers on the floor tried to trip me.  “You’re not going to leave us down here, are you?  What kind of home owner are you?”  Finally back in the kitchen, and closer to my exit, the trash yelled, “We’re not going to smell any better later on.”  Oh yeah, I promised to water the plants on the patio, a task I might forget later in the day.  Before long I was striding from one end of the house to the other, and the kid with the raised hand saying, “Oh, oh, oh” was around every corner.

At some point I got my attention.  “Hey, you.  Stop it!”  Actually, instead of “you” I called myself an insulting and derogatory name, but that’s for my ears only.  Usually yelling something calm and respectful like that will get my attention.

Once the spell was broken with my gentle name-calling, I finished gathering up my materials for the trip to Starbucks.  But the battle was not yet won.  Before I could get out the door, I remembered.  I hadn’t brushed my teeth. I didn’t have my reading glasses.  Where are my sunglasses?  I don’t have a pen.  The chatter began again and a singsongy voice started in with “You’re never going to get it done.”

Getting out the door was like pushing through a crowd of grasping zombies.  I finally did get out the door and within minutes was settled in with a cup of strong coffee, no room for cream.  I wrote my Morning Pages longhand, and in that process began to think about time-wasters and distracters.

Time-wasters are those tasks that really don’t need to be done.  They take up time and give nothing in return.  I’m thinking of most of the stuff on television.  This morning, before all the scurrying started, I watched some cable news while eating my oatmeal.  When I finished the oatmeal, I kept watching. It was stuff I didn’t need to know or would have found out later when I watched the news on purpose.  Time-wasters are just what their name suggests.  My time is down the drain with nothing to show for it but a dirty residue.  I’ve been had.  I’m more sad than angry, like I gave away something that I didn’t intend to give away.

It occurs to me as I’m writing this that a person can be a time-waster as well.  I don’t want to judge people or conversations too hastily, because sometimes a conversation that feels like a waste of time turns out to be a delightful, serendipitous moment.  But you know the people in your life I’m talking about.

Distracters are different.  Distracters may in fact be important tasks.  They just don’t need to be done right now.  For someone with mild and undiagnosed ADHD like me, distracters are seductive and dangerous.  I could spend all day on distracting tasks and only feel bad when I finally raise my head and realize I didn’t get any of the things done I actually intended to do.  Distracters are as compelling as a child at the bottom of a dry well pleading to be rescued.  However, once you frantically run around looking for a rope, finally find one, and then struggle to get the child out, you realize the child was quite content and could have simply climbed up the ladder you failed to notice earlier.  “But it seemed important at the time…” is a typical response to a distracter.

The seduction is not in the appeal of the distracters; the seduction is in the avoidance of the more important tasks.  None of those distracters were things I particularly enjoy doing.  However, each was easier and offered a more immediate payoff than the task I had decided to do.

Isn’t that life, though?  Doing the right thing or the thing we need to do is often not the hard part. The hard part is pushing aside all the other things that are simply easier and more immediately rewarding. 

More about that later.  Also, later, another important distinction between “Important vs. Immediate.”  That’s a Steven Covey idea that has served me well.

What are your favorite distracters?

What are your favorite time-wasters?

What are the things they keep you from getting into?

How do you get your attention and break the spell?