Merge's Blog

Tag Archives: managing distractions

Three things you can do right now to stay disciplined

say disciplinedDistractions are, unfortunately, a reality in our professional lives nowadays.  In fact, I’ve previously blogged about how often we lose focus at work by the well-known (and notorious) “squirrel” and I’ve subsequently asked you how you minimize distractions and stay disciplined.  Which is why I am thrilled to welcome our guest blogger today.  Mark Black is my professional colleague and my friend, but he was also only 24 when he found himself lying in a hospital bed clinging to life, praying for a life-saving heart and double-lung transplant. Three short years later, he was crossing the finish line of his first of four marathons.  So if anyone can give us practical advice on how to stay disciplined, manage distractions, and help us build resilience so that we can thrive in challenging times, it is Mark!

“Stay disciplined” may not be popular, but it works!

What do you think of when you read the word “discipline? If you are like many people, it probably brings up negative emotions. When most of us think of discipline, we think of experiences from our childhood where our parents “disciplined” us. It’s no wonder then, that most of us associate it with punishment and have a negative impression of it. That’s too bad.

Discipline is actually a very positive word. If you look at its origins, the word discipline comes from the Latin word “disciplina” which means: “”instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge”. To be disciplined then, means to be someone who accepts teaching and seeks learning and knowledge. Sounds good to me. Continue reading

6 Rules for thriving in an open-office environment

My newest column for The Globe & Mail is up in cyberspace this morning!  Today’s topic is about something that is happening in many workplaces across the country – the shift to an open-office environment.  Love it or hate it, the numbers show that it’s happening more than ever.  So in Six rules for the open-office environment, I don’t debate its merits and drawbacks.  Instead, by offering six definitive rules to survive, and thrive, in an open office environment, I focus on how to make this kind of a workplace environment effective and productive.


So … as always, very interested in hearing about your experiences.  Are you working in an open-office floor plan?  Does it work for you?  Why or why not?  If possible, please share your perspectives directly on the The Globe‘s site since your point of view will get a much wider audience than if you choose another alternative.  But I’m always open to hearing from you directly as well, so you can post your comments here on the blog, or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks) with your thoughts too.

And one last thing — do me a HUGE favour – help me get the word out … share the link with your staff and colleagues (easiest directly from The Globe‘s site using the share icon at the very top of the article).  My objective is always to get conversations started, so the more people who respond to this column means deeper and extended dialogue, which is always a good thing!  In advance, please accept my thanks for your help.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere:

Leaders, how do you minimize distractions?

CyclingThe topic of how to minimize distractions to maximize productivity came up again this past weekend.  My husband, an avid cyclist, rides his bicycle to work daily (at least while the weather is still cooperating).  Recently, he moved offices, and so his daily cycling route has changed.  Even though almost his entire journey is on bicycle trails, the path itself is quite serpentine, twisting and winding its way through tree groves and up and down many small hills.  In a passing comment to me this last weekend, he said “I find that I can’t really enjoy the view on my bike rides anymore because I need to concentrate and pay attention to the path.  A couple of times I’ve been distracted by birds or squirrels in my peripheral vision, and I found myself almost veering off the trail and into the brush.  This is not a straightforward pathway, so I have to really stay focused on what is ahead of me, otherwise I run the risk of getting into trouble.”

His comment about getting distracted by birds and squirrels got me thinking about how often we lose focus at work by the well-known (and notorious) “squirrel”. Continue reading

Minimize distractions and maximize productivity

Some of you may recall that last month I became the newest member of’s panel of business experts. is the online version of Profit Magazine, a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans. My inaugural column was titled How to become a persuasive triple-threat and it explored what it takes to get more people to buy your ideas.

Well, column number two just hit cyberspace this morning! How to stay focused by managing workflow interruptions offers up three strategies to minimize distractions, maximize productivity, and get more done.

ProfitGuide061815 Continue reading

Having trouble staying focused? You may be the problem!

Computer Keyboard With Word InterruptIn the past, I’ve blogged about the challenge of staying focused citing research from Gloria Mark, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine and an expert on work interruptions (see A leadership lesson on staying focused (from cats)).  Recently, I was doing some research for a new program and came across an interesting interview with Gloria Mark in which she made another specific comment that caught my eye.  Her studies have shown that people interrupt themselves almost as much as they are interrupted by external sources – people interrupt themselves about 44% of the time; the rest of the interruptions come from external sources.

Wow!  Think about this for a moment – on average, 44% of interruptions are self-induced.  Continue reading

A leadership lesson on staying focused (from cats)

SpiritSerenaAs frequent readers of my blog and Mega Minutes know, my husband and I live in a house that is managed by two adorable furry felines.  And as all good leaders, they often demonstrate valuable lessons in leadership that I can’t resist sharing with all of you 🙂 .

Consider this example about staying focused and managing distractions – when we call the cats, they rarely come.  Instead, as my husband says, they “take a message and get back to us later”.  You see, our cats have their own agenda and they’re not hurried by external forces (such as us) insisting that they interrupt their day to fit our schedules.  So they get back to us … eventually … but at a time that better fits their needs.

Now I write this a little tongue-in-cheek, but it is nevertheless a leadership trait worth bearing in mind.  Continue reading

The power of focus

The ocean floor

One of my favourite ocean activities is to snorkel. And I’ve been doing it for many years with great enjoyment. But on a recent trip to Hawai’i, a park ranger gave me some advice I’d never heard before. He said, “When you snorkel, don’t swim around trying to find the biggest and most colourful fish and ocean-life. Instead, decide on one square yard of the ocean bottom, and then watch that section for at least five minutes. You’ll see more in those five minutes than you’ll see in one hour of swimming around. Intrigued, I tried it. Sure enough, when I started to concentrate on just one small section of ocean floor, I began to see things I had never noticed before. Tiny, semi-transparent jellyfish hovering over a clump of tube coral; miniature hermit crabs who’d taken up residence in snail shells, nearly invisible were it not for their antennae waving in the water; little, electric-blue wrasses darting through the algae; bold needlefish swimming quickly between the waving fronds of branch coral; sea cucumbers almost buried in the sand, their presence only known by the almost-imperceptible movement of their tentacles; and a whole lot more! By focusing on one defined area, I suddenly discovered aspects of underwater ocean life that I never even knew existed.

In the everyday challenges of the workplace, it’s far too simple to get distracted by a plethora of ongoing initiatives and unexpected crises. It’s very easy to chase the big and colourful fish! Yet, what would happen if you were to stop and focus on just one specific issue or subject for a short period of time? Would you start noticing some of the small details that might have escaped you in the past? Could you get insights, could you uncover perspectives that you had never considered before? I think it might be worth doing – the power of focus could help you find unexpected and favourable outcomes.

What do you think?

A leadership lesson on how to concentrate

A few days ago, I was trying to develop some material for a new leadership program, but I found myself getting distracted frequently.  The phone, incoming email, competing demands and other people kept intruding, and several hours later, I was no further ahead than where I was when I first started.  Frustrated, I swung around in my office chair and looked over at the window.  And saw one of my cats!  For the next 15 minutes, I watched while she stalked a small flying insect with complete concentration.  Not even the prospect of play with her furry sister strayed her from her objective.  Nothing else existed except the prey she was hunting.  Minutes crawled by as she waited for that bug to creep out from under the curtain.  She was prepared, she was unswerving, and above all, she demonstrated intense focus.  She knew what her priority was, and she was relentless in devoting her energy to her quest.  As I contemplated returning to my work, I wondered what could give my cat such enduring single-mindedness, and I realized that I could learn a lesson from my loveable little lioness.  My four-legged friend was clear about her goal; she understood what might divert her and could not be persuaded; she applied all her energy to accomplishing her objective. Continue reading