Distractions Speak Louder Than Words

DistractionsJim Court: You’re not a permanent part of her life. You’re a distraction.

Lloyd Dobler: I’m the distraction that’s going with her to England, sir.

~ John Mahoney and John Cusack in Say Anything

Personal distractions are a permanent part of your life. They will always be with you.

I’m not talking about interruptions. Those aren’t going away either. Here, I’m talking about those leisure activities that some consider distractions.

As an entrepreneur, you may feel you need to shake them. Abandon them. Get as far away from them as you can.

The gurus say so. You know the ones I mean. The self-appointed grand poobahs of startup, who say there’s no way you can be successful if you choose leisure – like watching TV, going out with friends, or sleeping.

I Bet You Know What’s Coming…

Guess what, they’re wrong. At least partially wrong. Unfortunately, a lot of gurus use condescension to get their point across. They make you feel like you’re a listless slug if you watch some TV or like to play with your Wii. Or that you’re not serious about your business if you choose to go out with friends.

There’s a big difference between giving up distractions, and managing distractions. One is hard, the other is, well, less hard. And just talking about how you need to get rid of them just makes matters worse.

Now don’t get me wrong. You’re never going to get anywhere if you come home from work and watch 4 hours of TV every day, and then try to squeeze in some business stuff before going to bed.

But I think you’re mature enough to understand the difference between wasting time and leisure. Heck, you’re going to be running a business. You should be able to handle managing your distractions.

Conscious Distractions

Managing personal distractions is like managing any other part of your business. You first need to be clear – get a handle on what they are. They’re a big part of your life, and being conscious about them is the first step to managing them.

Then make a plan. Not one to try and completely erase them (it won’t work). But a plan to fit them into your life in a way that doesn’t take too much time away from your startup. The goal is making unconscious distractions, conscious distractions.

Get a DVR/PVR and set aside some time each week to watch your shows. Make one night movie night, or gaming night, or clubbing night. Then go and have fun without the guilt, because it’s scheduled and part of your plan. It’s a conscious decision, not an out of control time waster.

Managing distractions is no different than any other part of business operations. The key is being conscious of what you’re doing, then making a plan and following it.

Personal distractions can be very loud and demanding. They can also be fun and will always be a part of your life.

Just make sure they play their part on your terms.


  1. Tony,

    I think there is time for play and time for work. Of course, some may argue that if you enjoy what you do, your work becomes play. But there must be time to rest, and catch up with friends, isn’t it?

    A distraction is something that takes you away when you should be working. I think “leisure time” and “distractions” should not be mixed.

  2. Hi Tony,

    I read your post and “Cat’s in the Cradle” from Harry Chapin started running through my head. It sounds like you’re talking about balance. Without it, no matter how passionate you are about what you’re doing, eventually you’ll lose the passion, forget some of the other reasons you’re doing it, or just go stale.

  3. I can’t imagine “all work, no play”. How could that be anyone’s dream? So I would agree that “distractions” should be managed, but to do nothing but work would get old, no matter how much you love it.

  4. Kian Ann – That’s true – it depends on who’s doing the labeling of your “distraction.” There are some who see anything besides head-down plugging away at your startup as a “distraction,” including some “experts.”

    Rick – Absolutely, that’s the key – balance. I’m in the thick of a new startup and as much fun as I’m having (and working my tail off), I still need time for my family, for a good book, and a few of my favorite TV shows or movies.

    Anthony – You’re right, “…nothing but work would get old, no matter how much you love it.” I think the confusion comes from aspiring entrepreneurs who either have trouble managing their leisure time “distractions,” or think (or have heard) that they need to abandon them all together.

  5. I think Rick is right on the money here – balance in your life and business is so important and it’s something I do not always get right.

    It becomes a fine ballancing act between work/business and recreation (whether you call in pleasure, leisure, time out, down time whatever).

    Time away from work should be a time of re – creation, a time when the batteries are recharged, when our creative juices are re-created.

    We know the theory; why then do we make the practice so hard?

  6. Tony – I grapple with this fairly regularly. When I first started 12 years ago on my own, I had to impose an 8-5 schedule upon myself, just as if I were working for someone else. It’s taken me a long time to relax that mindset. After all, what’s the point of working for yourself if you can’t have flexibility during your day? I’ve learned to go for a walk, to do what I need to do to spark my energy when it sags. Some “distractions” can actually contribute to the bottom line eventually, when they serve to put me in a better place (as the law of attraction teaches).

    It’s getting to be kind of fun observing myself and playing with the old mindset when it rears up.

  7. Trevor – Good point. Putting the theory into practice is hard, especially when you love what you do.

    Debbie – I know what you mean. It does get easier. The great thing about having done this for a while is you KNOW the distractions and can work with them. When you’re starting out, that concern that EVERYTHING not business related is a distraction can be frustrating.

  8. Tony,

    Someone else’s distractions are my inspiration sometimes! When you have to be creative on demand — you need to give your brain plenty to chew on…and sometimes you need to pay attention to something frivilous so you can let something important simmer.

    Naturally — it’s about balance. But it is also about flexing all kinds of different muscles so you’re ready for anything!


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