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Could Indulging A Distraction Actually Make You More Productive At Work?

Last night, I was sitting at a red light in my trusty Subaru when the guy behind me decided stop lights were not for him and plowed into me and a few others dutifully waiting for the signal to change.

Don’t worry, I’m fine—at least that’s what I’m hoping the chiropractor will tell me—but now, suddenly, I get to add a bunch of extra tasks to my already crowded schedule:

  • Arguing with multiple insurance companies
  • Sorting out a rental car
  • Towing my car to a repair shop
  • Arguing with insurance companies some more

Often, the normal reaction to a stressful event like this is to ignore it, at least at first. Your life is busy, and this is the least fun thing to deal with, so you get around to sorting it out when you feel like it.

That might actually work for some people, but it’s never been a great approach for me because the stress in the back of my mind keeps me from doing the quality of work I know I should be. Instead, when faced with a stressful, unwanted situation, I prefer to deal with it—in full—right then.

A productivity guru might say, “That’s ridiculous! Don’t let anything distract you from your most important work!”

But if you’re like me, that advice just doesn’t work for you. It would be nice to pretend like something didn’t just swoop in and wreck all your plans, but… they kind of did. Now, this unwanted problem becomes front and center and, if you try to ignore it, your important work suffers because you struggle to actually focus on it.

So, the problems become the important work—something that has to be done just to get yourself back on track.

I don’t mind this, though. I know the longer I delay facing my stress, the longer the work I really want to be doing will suffer. So, rather than ignoring the problem, I choose to face it head on. I set aside my “important work” because something else has become temporarily more important.

I do this because I know if I finish taking care of my problems today, they won’t drag on me tomorrow. I can get life back to “normal” faster. And normal is what I need to get my best work done.

It’s kind of like dropping the first four stages in the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

For big, life changing losses, those five stages are necessary and unavoidable. But for minor inconveniences—a wrecked car that will get taken care of one way or another, for instance—I find it better to just skip the first four so I can get back to work.

Consider this the next time you’re dealt a setback and everyone is telling you to just relax, slow down, and sort things out later. If that advice doesn’t feel right, here’s another option you can try.

Now, I need to get back on the phone with the insurance company.