Interruptions and Distractions
Over the years, I've made improvements and accomplished a lot more than the staff of my elementary school probably thought I could. I survived a tough Catholic high school, and actually made it through four years of college. Granted, a Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design isn't exactly rocket science, but the fact that I focused on my studies, got good grades, and learned how to use computers would definitely impress anyone who knew the little idiot that ran through the halls with the hood of his brown sweatshirt pushing his ears forward in a Dopey impression. I was always something of an enigma though, my emotional and physical traits lagging years behind my intellectual ones. My mom fought successfully to keep me from repeating first grade. In Middle school, when I found myself in advanced academic classes but a special ed gym class, my mom had to come to my defense once more. I think that was one of the many nails in the coffin of my public school career.
It took effort, but by the time I was done with school and working in an office, I managed to sit in the same place for eight hours doing repetitious work. It went against my nature, but a radio helped until someone complained about the music and our boss took it away. Still, I was productive, fast, and eager to please. After four years I moved to a larger company with more distractions, including friends and internet access. Somehow I survived for over seven years there. As time wore on, I wasn't as fast I once was. My attention span was also a problem. If anyone came to visit, I'd stop working and give them my full attention. There were days when anything that anyone had to say was more interesting than what I was supposed to be doing. I still made all my deadlines, through a combination of speed and working a little later. I just wished I could multitask. At my first job, I'd sometimes work on three computers at once. Back then though, the machines were so slow that it was a necessity. While waiting for photos to finish scanning at one station, I could work on documents and print them out at another, and on a third save files to the slow and unreliable media of the day, SyQuest cartridges. Those removable spinning hard drives would sound like lawnmowers after repeated use, and I was constantly sending new files to our printers in Hong Kong when we'd get a fax about them not being able to read a disk. I digress though, tangents as inviting as an open window on a Spring day.
I'm not a machine. I make every effort to remain focused and professional, but I think the mind wearies like muscles. Some days I don't even realize it. One minute I'm working, and the next I realize I have a web browser open and I'm checking for personal e-mails. I still give visitors my full attention, though after five months I don't have as many as I had after seven years at my previous gig. And then there are work-related distractions, those emergencies and revisions that can't be helped. I can make a list, plan out what I want to accomplish on any given day, but I need to accept the reality that old tasks will always return to haunt me, and just when I think something is finished is when someone will want to make a change. Hours slip away when I’m not watching. It's the nature of my business, and I suspect the nature of most fields where the end product is subjective. Obviously, if a doctor removes an appendix, he won't be asked to put it back in three days later.
I've been watching a lot of old episodes of Scrubs lately. Sure, I have stacks of DVDs that need watching and several games, fake cities or quizzes online that I need to “win”, and yet I spend time looking at things I've seen before. It's probably why I haven't read more books, because I spent a lot of time reading the ones I liked more than once, most of which were comic books. Anyway, in one episode Dr. Cox decides to take the advice of a minister at a friend’s funeral, and take 20 minutes for himself each day. It's a good suggestion, but impossible to implement. Every time he sits down, a beeper goes off or an intern runs in. Though he later is forced to admit that, deep down, he enjoys being needed, ignoring the various emergencies is never an option. No one will die if I don't change the color of a box to red the second I get an e-mail asking me to do so, but in medicine you don't have the luxury of delaying or ignoring. It puts things in perspective and reminds me I have no true stress in my life beyond the minutia my weird brain magnifies.
At the end of the day, I'm still haunted by unchecked boxes on my to-do list. Personal or professional interruptions and distractions can be managed, but not avoided entirely. My real concern is that I don't get to a place again where the stuff I'm supposed to be thinking about during the day spills over into my evenings and weekends. I think distractions actually are important for our sanity. They give us a break and remind us that we're human beings. They're challenging when they rise up during the day, but essential when I'm not at work. The list lingers as I drive away from my office, soon drowned out by the sound of my voice screaming along with my radio. By the time I'm home and watching television, checking out a movie, or surfing the web, the focus has rightfully shifted. Work still peeks through a bit at night just as life peeks through during the day, but it's all a matter of balance. I didn't have that when I was younger, had no self-control whatsoever. I did what I wanted when I wanted, kicking and screaming when others held me back. I do worry as I get older that I'll not only get slower but the amount of time I can focus on any given task before needing a break will decrease. Gone are those early days where I'd sit at a computer for eight hours without taking lunch or even a bathroom break, but that's not a bad thing. If I can just hang on for another 30 years without regressing to my hyperactive and unfocused younger alter-ego, I'm going to be just fine. Yep, no distractions...
Oh hey, check out something I saw when I got home from work and not at all during the day: Cap got a gun! Thoughts?