Personal stories

Written by: Erika V.

Do you often get derailed due to a lack of interest on a specific task, or by a another task that holds a greater interest to you? If you were to journal your day, and you find that your answer to this question is yes, then you might want to ask yourself the following question: How quickly and effectively are you able to return to your original task?

It’s a natural reaction to want to ignore the mundane tasks that we are obligated to complete, and just want to spend our days doing those activities that we enjoy. But, as much as we would all like our days to be all about fun and games, there are things that just need to get done, chores that need to be completed, bills that need to get paid. The list of our obligations could seem to be endless at times, and it could be as easy as 1, 2, 3 to lose track of the main goal.

Just a couple weeks ago, I decided it was time to clear my desk of all the clutter and unopened mail, and get organized–a task that I have been avoiding for some time now. At first everything seem to be going great, until I received a notice that a package that I’ve been waiting for anxiously for days had arrived. So, impulsively I dropped what I was doing and rushed out the door to pick it up. Needless to say, the rest of the day was spent enjoying my shiny new toy. But reality hit the following morning, when I woke up to a mess that seemed to have tripled in size. In the process of trying to get organized, I created a chaos that took all day to clear and drained all my energy. My point is I had an idea of what needed to be done, and I was aware of the potential problems that I might run into, but I had no plan. Therefore, I allowed myself to get derailed and got very little accomplished once everything was said and done.

The motivation to start the things that need to be done can very easily be replaced with those that bring us joy. But there is hope for those of us who easily get derailed. One of the first things to think about in order to avoid derailment is to identify what those potential distractions are. Is it your television set, pets, family, hobbies? For me, my weakness is all the amazing smart devices, cameras, and computer software where you can let your creativity run loose. I could have an idea pop in my head and, before I know it, I’m either out the door with my camera or opening some computer software and I’m putting my ideas into motion. Before I know it, a day has gone by, and those things that needed to get done are now being pushed back.

You see, after a brain injury, the task of staying on track and avoiding those derailments becomes much harder. This could be due to several things. It could be that your attention span has been affected. It’s simply just harder to focus on one thing at a time, and it becomes much more difficult to stop those impulsive reactions of moving to a new task simply because something does not hold our interest. It could also be that your processing speed has decreased, so you could become easily frustrated and impatient, because things just take longer than what they used to.

But there are strategies that can be used to avoid derailments. Try working in an area in which you know there are no objects that will distract you, or put them away so they’re not in plain sight. Use calendars, and assign times in which your energy level is high to do those things that you find tedious, and always reserve time to do those things that you enjoy so you don’t feel cheated of your time. It’s also a good idea to leave white spaces in your calendar to re-energize yourself, or for those unexpected things that might arise and need immediate attention.

Stay true to your schedule; if you’re rearranging your schedule in the middle of a task, it’s easy to forget your original task altogether. If you have to stop due to an unplanned situation, make a note of where you left off and try to return to that same task when you’re ready. This will also help you with not repeating things you’ve already done. Use apps, timers, and alerts to take breaks; you want to reserve your energy for those things you want to do, not just the thing you have to do. If all your energy is spent on those tedious tasks, you’ll lose your motivation, get frustrated, and you’ll find ways to avoid doing those thing that we all hate, but have get done. It’s important to stay as consistent as possible so nothing falls in between the tracks. Reward yourself for a job well done; this is a good motivation strategy.

Now you might be thinking that I am the worst person to consider taking strategies from, based on the things I’ve shared with you, but I choose to write about this particular topic because I experienced both sides. Yes, I could get derailed fairly easily, but I’ve also used the strategies I mentioned above, and I’ve experienced first hand what a difference predicting your behavior and planning for those things that might take you off track can make. Like everything in life, these few strategies are things you need to constantly practice and use. By no means have I perfected it, but I see changes in my behavior and I’m getting things accomplished more effectively, and also managing time for myself.