I remember taking my wife out to dinner for a date night and after we had ordered and given the waitress our menus back, I looked around and noticed couple after couple after couple sitting across from each other at their table fully engaged in…their cell phones. I do not mean to sound judgmental when I share this, rather, to me it illustrated a fact that I am well aware of:
We live in a world full of distractions.
The question I ask myself a lot in response to this reality is: “How do I deal with life in the distracted world I live in?”
The thing is that technological advances have brought many great advantages, but they have also created a world absolutely full of distractions. I heard on the news today that there is a study that was done correlating college students’ time on Facebook to their grades. The conclusion of the study was that the more time a student spent on Facebook (distracted from their studies), the more likely they were to have bad grades. While that may seem like a no-brainer, I can remember 7 years ago when I was in college seeing many of my classmates spend hours a day on social media during study and during class, and furthermore, many of them would allow video games to distract them from their sleep and their studies by playing video games long into the night on a daily basis.
Last year, when we moved our family to LeRaysville, Pennsylvania we went from my wife and I both having smartphones, to neither of us having a smartphone. The reason for this was primarily because we moved to an area where there was not an adequate signal for miles around us so we just didn’t see the point of paying for phones we hardly used. We have just recently gotten smartphones again because we found a provider that has a little bit of a signal out here and because we can also use our WIFI on our new phones to make calls and use apps. While it is nice to have the convenience of a smartphone again, I must say, I really enjoyed the past year without a smartphone. I’m determined to use my phone as a valuable tool instead of as a part of me that I must ALWAYS have with me and constantly be checking.
As I address dealing with our distraction drenched lives, I’m particularly concerned with three negative impacts distractions have:
1) Distractions can have a negative impact on our relationship with God. I know there have been many times that I have sat down with my Bible and as I open it the phone rings. The reality is that Scripture tells us, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10. Most of us are so busy and distracted that we have a really hard time being still and knowing God.
2) Distractions can have a negative impact on our relationships with other people. When the phone in a person’s hand gets more attention than the person sitting across from them, I’m sorry, but it’s obvious that there’s a problem.
3) Distractions can negatively impact our focus and productivity. Most of us have probably experienced a day when we set out with a list of goals but we allowed unnecessary distractions to rob us of our accomplishments.
Here are some of the ways that I have come up with to deal with distractions in my life. I hope that some of them are helpful.
- Write stuff down. When you are distracted, there is a tendency to forget important things and an easy way to combat it is writing things down. Sometimes, distractions are important, but can be addressed later and you simply need to make a quick note. When I was in college, I worked on the school’s maintenance staff. I constantly had people mentioning to me about things that needed to be fixed. I developed the habit of carrying a small notepad with me so I could write the needs down instead of just forgetting about them.
- Schedule undistracted time. Build time into your schedule/routine daily when you are shutting out distractions so you can focus on your relationship with God and with other people. An example of this from my marriage is that my wife and I have started planning time at night after the children are in bed to talk with each other. No phones. No computers. Just us. It’s great!
- Get up early or stay up late (but not both consistently). I think it is helpful to be utilizing times when distractions are less likely. Personally, I like to utilize the early hours of the morning, but I know people who prefer to stay up late. Whichever you do is up to you. I would add that it is unwise to continually “burn the candle at both ends” as the saying goes. It’s okay sometimes, but if you don’t get enough sleep consistently, it leads to all kinds of problems.
- Control notifications on your phone. You can go to your phone settings and adjust what apps give you notifications. Notifications are distractions! Therefore, be wise in which apps you choose to be notified by. Do you really need to know the second someone comments on your social media post?
- Practice being fully present with people. When you are talking with someone and the phone rings do you excuse yourself and answer it? I usually do not. Also, when you are having a conversation or are in a meeting is your phone out on the table or in your pocket? When you are fully present you are giving the people you are physically with priority.
- Learn to rest and unplug. It’s okay to turn your phone off. One of the reason’s that I haven’t written a blog post for a bit is that I took my family on a vacation where we unplugged. There was an emergency number that I shared with Elder’s in our church in case of an emergency, but other than that, I left my computer home. We wanted to be present with each other as a family on vacation, and I’m so glad we did!
- Set Priorities. Assess how many distractions are self-inflicted. Are you prioritizing social media over your to do list? Are you allowing a phone that won’t stop buzzing with texts to keep you from your work? Are you allowing the phone that won’t stop ringing to keep you from meeting with God? When we set priorities, we are being diligent to keep first things first.
I want to make an important point. Not all distractions are bad. Sometimes interruptions are necessary and important. Here is a favorite quote of mine (I read it from a textbook in college and forgot to reference it so I do not know who wrote it) that is mounted on my office wall, “Jesus never regarded people who pushed into his life as interruptions of his ministry. Interruptions, in fact, made up a large chunk of his ministry! If my time schedule, and my work become more important to me than the interruptions God sends along the way, then I have lost the Shepherd’s vision, and I have forgotten that the bottom line is not the task, but the people.” We need to exercise wisdom and discernment to know when God is sending us a divine appointment in the form of what seems to be an interruption.
Finally, I believe that in general distractions breed stress. So, I want to conclude this post with two verses that comfort and encourage me greatly. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15.