Land of Distraction

In a previous life when I was starting up a new business, I was on the road constantly, which took me away from my young family. Then, when I was home, I was focused on the overwhelming tasks of getting the business going. I didn’t like the circumstances any more than my wife, and she succinctly put it in this way: “You’re never here, and when you are here, you’re not here.”

We face so many distractions in life that multi-tasking is our norm. And that’s not good.

By Paul Deffenbaugh

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I was one poor, sad, distracted worker bee. I’d like to say I resolved all those issues, and I learned better how to balance my work and home life, but what I actually did was take another job that allowed me to manage my time better. It was the right thing to do for me and my family.

But even in that new job and continuing on to today, I find myself distracted. That’s especially true with all the screens we have providing us with information and entertainment. How many of you watch TV with a smartphone nearby? Do you also have a laptop thrown into that? It’s not unusual for me to sit in front of the tube and do some work on my laptop. The truth is, I’m not really paying attention to the show that’s on; it’s just noise in the background interfering with my concentration on work.

We all live in the land of distraction. It’s so bad sometimes that I feel like I’m constantly looking at my phone instead of listening or talking to the person I should be speaking with. We all lead these constantly distracted lives. We may not have adult-onset attention deficit disorder, but smartphones and laptops and other devices are making us act like we do.

Part of the problem is that we’ve bought into the idea of multitasking. We think we can do several tasks at the same time. Most studies show that multitasking is a fallacy. We can only really do one thing at a time and the rest is a distraction from doing that one thing well. In the modern parlance, we are no longer mindful.

On the job site, this kind of distraction, this lack of mindfulness, can get you hurt. I think that’s one of the reasons I liked working on the job site, and to this day don’t mind doing home repairs. Now, nobody likes crawling under a sink to repair plumbing. (It’s a torture position invented by the devil.) But I do find that when I’m doing work with my hands, I stay focused on the job much longer and don’t have to turn to other devices for engagement. I don’t get distracted. We were not meant to live our lives inside our heads.

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At our industry summit meeting in Chicago, April 11-12, we’re going to be talking a lot about how we can convince young people to get out of their own heads and earn a living with their hands. It’s a tough mountain to climb. Today’s youth grew up with multiple screens and constant distractions. We may not be able to solve this problem for all of society, but we’ll have best practices that will help you identify sources for skilled workers and recruit them.

There’s an old joke about two guys who rile up a bear. One stops to tighten his shoelaces and the other says, “Even with tightened laces, you’re not going to outrun that bear,” to which the first replies, “I don’t need to outrun the bear; I only need to outrun you.”

In the competition for skilled labor, we don’t need to solve the whole problem. We only need to solve it for our companies. And here’s a little secret. If enough of us do solve it for our individual companies, we’ll end up solving it for everybody else too.

We’ve got a good story to tell about the trades and attracting young workers. We need to do a better job of telling it. Find out more about the summit at