Thinking: An endangered skill

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How often do you check your email? Or Facebook? Twitter? Another site? How often are you distracted by the digital world? Do you sleep with your smartphone at your bedside?

The question I really want to ask is: What is the longest period of uninterrupted time you’ve had in the past week to think? To really think?

Ministry leaders who want longevity in office cannot afford not to have a lot of high quality time for thinking about mission; about current results of their mission activities, and even more importantly, about what they will do differently in the future pursuit of their mission. Unfortunately, there is an insidious trap set to prevent us from doing just that.

Digital distractions

In The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World, Frances Booth makes a powerful and well-researched case that the Internet is changing the way we think, how we are literally re-wiring our brains for the kind of thinking that grazing on the Internet and social media encourages, and then presents a plan for how to master the digital world and restore time for thinking, relationships, personal refreshment, and even sleeping well, while maintaining the Internet’s benefits.

Some of the attention-grabbing research findings she cites are that:

  • many people have bought in to the myth of multitasking, which research shows is about the only thing you actually get worse at the more you do it
  • by being constantly connected, you are constantly thinking light – zooming about, but staying nowhere
  • we have a lot of scatterbrains who know how to search and scan, but who have lost the ability to read, focus, reflect, and think deeply
  • nothing ever has the full attention of constantly wired people – they are not fully present with the people around them (Has anybody ever said to you “But I told you last week we were going out with the Smiths tonight!”) nor are they fully present with the digital world (“Exactly what was the content that you scanned yesterday?”)
  • digitally distracted people never have fully formed thoughts because they are distracted before long and research shows they often don’t get back to where they were (“I lost the thought I just had!”), and
  • Internet-addicted people have surrendered their own agendas in favour of following digital trails of candy that lead them aimlessly through the Web to inconsequential places that occupy their time and leave them too exhausted to think for themselves. What have you traded the minutes of your life for?

No time for distractions!

Leaders need lots of time for deep, reflective thinking and yet they also tend to have all the latest gadgets that leave them connected to the web wherever in the world they are.

What we are losing is the creativity, original ideas, and insights that come with time invested in uninterrupted thinking. We also lose quality of sleep, long term memory (we remember search terms rather than content), time for hobbies, conversations (broadcasting status updates and 140 character quips substitutes for two-way discussions) and real, in-person relationships (in exchange for virtual ‘friends’).

Aside from larger ministries that have a chief operating officer role, a ministry’s senior leader usually doesn’t have a whole lot of time for thinking because the daily demands on their time are so high. That makes it all the more important that leaders in this situation protect themselves from digital distractions.

Break free of the Internet

We have to learn to fight against the Internet’s allure – its power over us is that it is repetitive, intensive, interactive, and addictive.1 There are lots of good reasons to use the Internet, but it must remain our servant, not become our master.

Over the last week, I’ve been tracking my own digital distractions and have been surprised at how powerful the urge to check for new emails or other updates actually is (even while I’m writing this post!). I have successfully reduced (for a few days anyway) my shifting between windows by following the first of Frances Booth’s suggestions, and I have identified the conditions that make me more susceptible to distraction. I look forward to completing the rest of her plan in the coming weeks.

Call to Think

Ministry leaders, my goal today is to make you sensitive to digital distractions in your life that are gradually sapping your ability for deep thought. Don’t leave leftover time for thinking time. Plan it. Schedule it. Ruthlessly fight against anything that would distract you from that precious uninterrupted time that is so precious for the future of your ministries!

  1. Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. 2011.
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Thoughts on Thinking: An endangered skill

  1. Michael Packer

    John, thanks for publishing last week my CCCC Board devotional on “Are we too busy?” Distraction is today one of the leading causes of our business. Your article on leadership distraction is a timely follow-up to the question “Are we too busy?” Michael

    Reply
  2. Minerva V. Saddler

    Thank you for this post. I am 100% guilty of being consumed by such distractions on almost a daily basis. As I result there are occasions where my days are far less productive than intended. I continue to pray for more discipline so that I can be a better steward of my time.

    Reply
    1. John PelloweJohn Pellowe Post author

      Hi Minerva. Your honest self-understanding is an encouraging sign that you are ready to take charge! I pray you will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit as you free yourself up to be everything God wants you to be!! Blessings, John

      Reply

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