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7 Stupid Distractions Every Leader Should Eliminate

2. Text Messages

You’re probably thinking, I get the part about not getting notifications about Instagram, but come on, text messages? Miss those, too?

Here’s what I’ve done with my text messages. Before I tell you, know that I do not give out my cell number freely. Not a lot of people have it. Even then, I don’t want to be a slave to it.

So, I allow push notifications for text messages, but I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb, which means I don’t feel them or hear them.

When I’m ready to take a break, I pull out my phone and do a quick check. That way they don’t interrupt me.

But wait, you argue. I can’t miss any text messages. What about my wife and my kids? What about my super important projects?

First, remember when you were a kid? Your parents had no idea where you were, and after a few hours, they’d call the neighbors. You survived. So did they.

Ditto with work. People used to get work done at work. Remember those days? Now you don’t get any work done at work, and constant interruption is one of the reasons.

What’s happened is you’ve confused importance with urgency. Texts may be important, but mostly they’re not that urgent if you’re going to look at your phone every hour anyway.

But wait, you say, what’s if it’s a true emergency?

Well, if you’re waiting for a new kidney and the doctor is texting you that you need to come to the hospital right this second or you lose the organ, sure…keep your phone on.

But that’s not what ruined your day last Tuesday. In fact, you can’t even remember what the texts that ruined last Tuesday were about, can you?

Nope, you can’t.

Which is why you should ignore what’s going on on your phone until you’re ready to take a break.

The planet will keep spinning. I promise you.

And you will get more done.

3. Your Idle Curiosity

The challenge of working in an online environment is that the world is literally at your fingertips.

The distractions are a click or tap away. It takes tremendous self-discipline not to go down the rabbit-hole of the Internet, from social media to mindless Googling of things that really don’t matter, like the surface area of the sun or who invented the straight-razor.

Curiosity is a great thing, but idle curiosity that produces nothing…not so much.

We blame our office environment, co-workers, endless email or whatever. But eliminate all those things, and you still have you to contend with.

I don’t need an enemy. I have one. It’s a perpetually distracted me.

You don’t need an enemy. You have one. It’s a perpetually distracted you.

4. Inefficient Email

If you can’t totally escape email entirely (I’ve experimented with that in seasons), limit it.

Turning off push notifications is a great start, but it won’t solve all your problems.

Try changing your email practices from ‘always checking all the time’ (which is the default for almost all of us) to tiny pockets where you check it at different points in the day.

For example, try doing a small window of say 15 minutes in the morning to make sure nothing’s on fire. Ninety percent of the time, things aren’t on fire.

Then come back to email at a set time later in the day and pound through it. Do it when your energy is a little lower, and spend your best energy instead on the tasks that are most important to you that day.

That way when you get home, you’ll have accomplished something significant and not spent your time on things that matter less.

The less time you spend on email, the less it will consume you.

Second, don’t manage or lead by email.

Here’s how it happens to most leaders. Someone thinks of an issue, so they send an email. Someone adds a thought, and they reply all.

A conversation that might take five minutes in person (or less) drags on a through a series of useless replies that go on for days.

We’ve adopted some practices on my team that have helped.

First, don’t email people about everything. If you have an issue that could be just as easily handled by phone or in person, park it on a list (use something like Asana or Wunderlist to keep track).

Then, once you have a list of five to 15 items, do a simple 15-minute check-in phone meeting or stand-up meeting in person to handle them all. You’ll be way more efficient.

Similarly, if a direct report emails me something that’s not urgent, I’ll just ask them to wait until our weekly meeting with it. It can almost always wait.

If it’s truly urgent and there will be a lot of back and forth, pick up and phone and call or do a quick text exchange. People are always shorter on text than on email.

Not everything is urgent, so don’t treat it like it is.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.