Turning off distractions, being more focused and getting your momentum back

Being a productive and effective school leader requires a positive mindset and the motivation to do our very best each day.

I found that over the last 12 months that the mood I was bringing to school each day varied significantly. It was not that I had got bored with my work, quite the contrary; I love my school and being involved in education. I noticed that my mood around my family would also be up and down. Most importantly, I was not happy with myself, I felt distracted and unfocused, more down than up.

I have reflected a lot lately on the use of my mobile phone, engagement with social media and my consumption of news media in its various forms. In doing so, I came to the conclusion that all three of these things were having a negative effect on both my health and my mindset.

The phone was giving me proximity to social and news media and I noticed that I was was getting my ‘fix’ of both far too regularly, so much so that my ability to concentrate for long periods was coming under attack. This wonderful, all in one, device, had entered most rooms in my apartment. As my alarm clock, it had entered my bedroom. Upon waking up each morning, I would check a few of the news apps eager to hear of another political scandal or find some other distressing story that made me feel bad about the world we live in.

Moreover, I would get depressed by news stories that make me feel that leadership, to a certain extent, appears to have become morally bankrupt. I would take this with me to school and around my home, with the problems of the world, most of which I cannot control, weighing on my mind.

My phone had also become this great source of procrastination, disconnecting me from the things that I was truly passionate about such as exercising, completing meaningful tasks at work and family time. I would get frustrated and further distressed by how my checking of my phone or browsing of the Internet lead to me losing key opportunities to really engage with what I am passionate about. This stress this created was unnecessary and, more importantly, I could control it with some application and effort.

Being on social media began to bother me. Friends and colleagues who seemed to be ever-present online began to annoy me and I began to feel that so many posts are just a meaningless distraction. While social media has given so many a voice, the way in which some communicate our disagreements, for me, has become both disturbing and upsetting. Being tagged in posts and the thirst to take another ‘hit’ from a notification would beg me to stay online to the point where I felt that all messages from WhatsApp and WeChat has become an intrusion, especially when I wanted and needed time alone with my own thoughts, or when I needed to spend that time enjoying the company of family, friends and colleagues.

Putting it simply, I had been wasting my time and somewhat lost my motivation and focus. My ‘burden of distraction‘ had crossed some critical threshold where I was really unhappy. I needed to gain momentum again in the things that make me happy and able to do the important things in life to the best of my ability.

So, it has been ‘notifications off’, phone only allowed at particular times and in certain locations. No more Facebook, Twitter only for work and use Buffer to schedule posts. No consumption of news media until after 11am, with the exceptions of the weekend’s football results! Even the tracking of a game score is being resisted. Have I perfected this yet? Definitely not but I am getting there.

I am now several weeks into this routine and it is hard. The amount of discipline and restraint needed to stay away is significant. There have been benefits, however, in that I am exercising more, eating better plus the news is not affecting my mood so much. I am more focused at work and able to set aside time to concentrate on tasks for long periods, be ‘actually present’ in conversations and, importantly, laugh and enjoy life more. The benefits are such that I will keep persevering with this new routine that I wanted to share with others.

The use of our phones and our consumption of social and news media affects us all differently and this post is not meant to attack the beneficial aspects of all three but to outline that these things can harm many of us. Some of us are seeking to escape, to get our momentum back and feel grounded those things that we are truly passionate about. So, I hope this post helps.

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