interruptions, focus & mosquito mind

June 15, 2016

The phrase ‘Monkey Mind’ is used to describe the uncontrollable mental wandering that most people (including me) experience when they are meditating.  My Monkey Mind is meandering, inquisitive, and tends to get lost in tangential alleyways.  It is distracted but not unpleasant.

This post is not about that.

I have noticed a far less pleasant mental state that seems to afflict me in certain scenarios:  the Mosquito Mind.  For the record, I cannot stand mosquitos – they give me hideous itchy welts which last for days.  So you can imagine how I feel about the Mosquito Mind state.

 Characteristics of Mosquito Mind:
* flitting rapidly from task to task (example: checking email multiple times during the course of writing a single outpatient note)
* inability to stay in a single mental gear long enough to do anything of substance
* vague irritability for no real reason

Scenarios that tend to bring on MM:
* being interrupted frequently.  I learned recently (on the Note to Self podcast) that outside interruptions actually increase the probability that you will start interrupting yourself.  I have absolutely experienced this phenomenon before
* an uncertainty about what I am supposed to be doing due to a general sense of overwhelm / lack of clear prioritization
* fatigue
* the afternoon hours
* not having exercised
* stress

Things that tend to help prevent MM:
* having a deadline (if I am clear about exactly what needs to happen by XYZ time, I am much more likely to be able to focus)
* meditation (even 5 minutes)

As I am currently on call, I am experiencing plenty of MM.  Yesterday, while trying to finish up notes at my desk, I had what felt like 2837 outside interruptions and then an equal number of self-inflicted ones.  I need to figure out how to block out my day so that I am not constantly getting ‘urgent’ calls about things that are not urgent (important yes, but urgent no!), causing the unpleasant (and unproductive) pinging from task to task.

* consolidating patient slots a little so that there is a dedicated block of time at the end of the day to do patient phone calls / orders / lab result calls / whatever nagging tasks I am being asked to do intermittently all day
* NOT having email open on my desktop (!!!) and sticking to dedicated checking times.  Sadly I have attempted this on so many occasions and failed.  Eliminating digital distractions has been much much harder for me than any other habit!
 * blocking out time for the day in my planner ahead of time so that I know, for example, 4:15 – 5 pm will be devoted to dealing with those kinds of tasks so that they are not bothering me the rest of the day
* establishing daily (or twice daily?) check-in times with staff so that they know when to approach me for questions/issues, or ask them to use the electronic in-box and not show up at my office door / call unless a matter is urgent
* blocking out periods on certain days (when I have time allotted) for focused work on projects such as residency tasks — during which the inboxes will be closed (and perhaps my office door, too, which is currently always open)
* GTD — I think that fully implementing this system will help with this (it is definitely supposed to), and I am on my way, so we will see.

today’s attempt at taming the MM

By the way, this post is about work, but MM can strike at home, too.  Household tasks, time with the kids, texts, flipping through a magazine — often it can all get mixed up into a distracted jumble that is far more unpleasant than the activities themselves actually are.  Although I will say I am far better at ignoring messes than emails/messages.


Has anyone written an article / book / etc on this, especially as applied to the healthcare setting!?  (If not . . . maybe I need to)

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