Distractions

Right now, there’s a personal matter going on in my life that’s been bothering me – it’s been on my mind heavily all day today. (Don’t worry, there’s nothing directly affecting me, my wife, or children.)

I had to go out and take care of a birthday gift for a friend and a Valentine’s Day item for my wife, and while I was out, I found myself strongly considering two unnecessary impulse buys. My mind and heart weren’t really into it – I was distracted.

I had to fill out some paperwork. As I was filling out the form, I made a significant mistake, one I didn’t notice until I printed it out. I had to print out another copy. I was distracted.

My children were doing Valentine’s card exchanges with their friends. I sent the Valentines for my daughter’s friends with my son and the ones for my son with my daughter. Luckily, I noticed before things were disastrous. I was distracted.

Over and over again, both in the mistakes I make as well as the mistakes I see others make, distractions seem to be the culprit. We make mistakes and bad choices when we’re not completely focused on the task at hand.

Three times today, I was on the verge of making a significant mistake because I was distracted. Three times, a few simple techniques saved me.

First of all, I double-check almost everything I do. Sometimes mistakes still slip through this (yes, even on Simple Dollar posts), but a simple double check before I commit something often saves me quite a bit of cost and trouble.

Take the paperwork, for example. It would have been easy for me to just assume the paperwork was correct once I printed it. Instead, I took a second to look it over and found the mistake then and there instead of having to deal with the ramifications of the mistake later on.

Second, I try to do things as early in advance as I can. Taking care of a lot of the task in advance makes the actual completion of the task go a lot easier.

Take the valentines, for example. Last night, all of the valentines were made out and sorted into separate bags for each child to take with them. Then, this morning, all that had to be done was to give each child their bag. There was only a couple little things for me to mess up at the last minute (and, yes, I managed to mess one of them up).

Third, I take advantage of any pauses to re-evaluate. If I have a moment to stop – waiting in line, for example, or stopping at a stoplight – I’ll take inventory of the situation around me and see if I’ve missed anything.

Take the shopping, for example. Before I went to buy any items, I double-checked what I had chosen to buy and simply asked myself if I actually had a reason for buying the item. On at least two items, I didn’t have a real reason when I thought about it.

Even though I strive to be focused in the moment at all times, real life doesn’t always allow that to happen. In each of these cases, the layer of precautions I had in place kept me from making mistakes because of my distraction.

Those mistakes each had a cost. For the paperwork, it would have cost me the time it took to make several phone calls to have the error fixed when I eventually noticed it. For the valentines, it would have cost my children some anxiety. For the shopping, it would have cost me money on purchases of things I didn’t really need.

Having a simple system in place helps me to overcome the distractions and not make (as many) little mistakes like that. Since these checks are usually instantaneous or take just a few seconds at most, they’re not really inconvenient, either. They just work – and they help me to maximize my time and money.