Anywhere But Here

About a year ago, May 2018, I had just enjoyed a nice customer visit and was leaving their parking lot. Being uber keen, a striver, a charger, a disciplined, driven, make things happen kind of fellow, my senses had leaped forward to think about where I was headed next. I was checking the address listed on my open notebook while backing up. Even with a back up camera on and rear parking alarm sounding, I blindly hit a parked car with my posterior. Crunch. And not the Capn’ kind the kids enjoy for breakfast.

Fast forward a year, and I had the good fortune to spend a few days in Banff in May at the IBAA 2019 Convention hosted at the renown Banff Springs Hotel. Even though I commute through Banff most weeks, I haven’t been at the Springs hotel in a few years. I was reminded why it remains a perennial attraction for folk from all corners of the world. It is, simply, a majestic building in a majestic setting. Nestled against the Southwest Slopes of Rundle Mountain, the Banff Springs Hotel stands tall, remaining impressive as a 130 plus year old legacy. Looking up at it from the rear down by Bow Falls, the building looms like a Castle buttressing weary travellers from the forces of nature. When entering the traffic circle at the main entrance, one realizes they have arrived somewhere special. The impressiveness is only enhanced when inside the building as every detail is intended to preserve the rich history of this building.

While sitting in the Rundle Lounge near a window soaking in the clarity of the snowline delineating perfectly the still wintry alpine from the warming valley. I imagine that if one astutely observed this setting daily one would see the rhythmic retreat of the snowline rising from 1400m to 1500m to 1600m in a calculated way as the soft snow slides into slushy slough converting frozen ice falls to gushing waterfalls filling the streams and lakes below.  I was disappointed to catch myself checking my phone while waiting to meet someone. Somehow, I just had to scroll through news stories on the National Post’s website instead of enjoying the moment in which I was lucky enough to be. Thankfully, I caught myself and quickly put the phone away in order to stare at the Spring snow squalls bluster across the mountains.

The main drag through Banff runs from Northeast to Southwest with two lanes split by a centre median. Acting as bookends, the town is protected by Cascade Mountain to the North and Mount Rundle to the South. There’s a steady flow of tourists moving like automatons from one spot to the next taking pictures, echoing images of those before them. Two of the most common “go to” Social Media pics emerging from Banff visits are the pictures on the big wood letters, “Banff”, at the Entrance to town near the train station and the other would be from the median on the main road in town looking back to Cascade Mountain.

Are we even thinking of why we’re here, what experience we want to have while we’re here, and what we want to remember, or are we just here to take a picture and check off our “to do” while thinking of how many “likes” we’ll get from “sharing”? Technology seems to have such a grip on us that even when we’re surrounded by some of the world’s most wonderful scenery, we choose to be “anywhere but here”. We seem to care less about absorbing the moment of our experience and more about projecting our awesomeness to the outside world. We’re consumed by blindly following what others are doing while seeking to gain similar “status”.

This isn’t sententious sentiment, remember where we started. I’m as guilty, if not more so, as any. We’re all increasingly vulnerable to the draw of our devices. Our steady state seems to be distraction. Worse, we just seem to be mindlessly pulled by our devices. I’m about to blather some blasphemy while bracing for blowback. Could it be that our workloads are neither growing nor becoming more complex, but our inability to focus, concentrate, and pay attention is leading to our feelings of being overwhelmed or increased anxiety? What if there’s even a kernel of truth to this? How are we contributing to our own stress levels at work? How are we letting our consumption with our devices influence our concentration at work? Is it possible that our inability to truly concentrate on something is leading to mistakes which is creating more rework?

How could we seek to test this idea? Maybe we could try to emulate teachers that collect phones from kids before class in order to help students focus on their learning? If we participated as a group or department and had someone collect our phones for a few hours, we could try to rekindle our ability to concentrate. Perhaps, we could consider leaving our phones in our cars for a few hours? If we can’t do it for a few hours, how about an hour? Could we consider turning off the automatic send/receive on our emails? Would we dare go so far as to proactively check our emails once an hour or 4 times a day? What if we tried any of these for a week or even a day to evaluate both how we felt and whether we’re able to get something constructive done in the time we’re “without”?

Should you choose to wade deeper, here some links:

Overview of study offering support that even the smallest and seemingly innocuous interruptions can have significant negative consequences.

The study, in which 300 people performed a sequence-based procedure on a computer, found that interruptions of about three seconds doubled the error rate.

This article highlights the negative impact on work quality distractions can have coupled with ten suggestions on how to constructively manage distractions.

Mufson adds: “Happiness largely comes from feeling that you are doing a good job at work that has meaning to you, and seeing positive results from your efforts. It takes skill and focus to produce high-quality work at the top of your game. Distractions can decrease focus, which increases stress, which can intensify any poor work habit you may have. Distractions can acerbate all of the issues that lead to poor performance, creating a negative spiral where poor performance leads to more stress which leads to more poor performance, and so on.”

Finally, a short, readable article with general advice on how to proactively produce better work.

The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends, there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.Thomas A. Edison