Basic intelligence, different from book learning or IQ, is something we all possess. To what level this basic intelligence is practiced, expanded and put to effective use is dependent on active thinking, attention to details and the application of the options and choices available for implementation. When it comes to the application of safe work practices, examining our basic intelligence is an exercise worth pursuing.
Distractions are ever present in our environment and result from what we are thinking. The slogan, “as you think, so you go,” appropriately fits because what you are thinking directs your actions and behaviors. Everything you do is a result of what you are thinking.
Complete the following exercise by circling “T” for true or mostly true or “F” for false or mostly false.
T F 1. I feel pressured to get jobs done at work.
T F 2. My supervisor puts a lot of pressure on me to get things done.
T F 3. I pressure myself to get things done at work.
T F 4. I am tempted to take shortcuts to get things done at work.
T F 5. I’ve got too many things on my plate here at work.
T F 6. They keep piling things on me, giving me more projects to complete.
T F 7. I often feel overworked.
T F 8. I can’t talk to my supervisor about my workload and get support.
T F 9. I often do more than one task at a time.
T F 10. Being able to multi-task is expected in my work area.
T F 11. I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of work expected to be done.
T F 12. All this multi-tasking they expect me to do is dangerous.
T F 13. I am definitely stressed by the amount of work they put on me.
T F 14. I am stressed by work and personal challenges.
T F 15. My stress levels are distracting me.
Determine your risk of distraction by counting the number of circled “T” responses: 0 – 2 (Very Low Risk); 3 – 5 (Low Risk); 6 – 8 (Moderate Risk); 9 – 11 (High Risk); 12 – 15 (Very High Risk).
Very Low and Low Risk scores indicate that you are managing current distractions. You are doing what you need to do to keep your head and hands in the same place. Your attention to details indicates that your level of awareness is focused when it needs to be and that you are an active thinker.
A Moderate Risk score raises an alert flag. Distractions are starting to have an impact. You probably notice that you are feeling uneasy or frustrated by situations or events bothering you. Your stress level is rising, and your potential for being distracted is increasing. Don’t be surprised if your response to this information is “This is crazy,” “No, not true for me,” or something to that effect. Remember, this is an alert level – denial is the first reaction most people have to unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. Raise your awareness and re-examine what might be going on.
High or Very High Risk scores are red flags, and true signs of danger. Distractions and stress have reached levels where the conditions have taken control and you are reacting to situations. Your head and hands are not in the same place, and you are at a dangerous risk of making human errors. Now is the time to stop what you are doing and ask this question: “What can I do right now?” Ask and answer this question with the focus on what can be done productively right now. Asking the question will raise your awareness, help you focus, and get you to actively thinking about options available to you.
Two common work conditions where manageable distractions occur are time pressure and multi-tasking.
Time Pressure: This condition occurs when someone tells you that you need to get a task done in an unreasonable period of time. Your level of stress likely will increase and put you in an emotional state, decreasing your ability to manage yourself and the situation. Reacting is an automatic thought and can decrease your effectiveness quickly. It also increases the risk of making a human error. Ask “What can I do right now?” and then do what you can do.
Time pressure is a behavior when you impose the pressure on yourself. For example, you’ve got one 20-minute task to complete and your day ends early. Your child has an event you’re expected to attend. Getting off work on time will get you to the event on time. You’re 25 minutes into the task and it’s not going well. Time pressure is now a behavior challenge. Check your thinking and ask “What can I do right now?” Look at your options and select one that fits safe behaviors and productive outcomes.
Multi-Tasking: This is becoming a common practice in work settings today. The most important point to remember when you are doing more than one task at a time is that “there is always one primary task.” Make sure you attend to the primary task if you’re distracted and have to manage others tasks at the same time. Multi-tasking is a condition that can create distractions leading to human errors. It’s your behavior that you can manage 100% of the time. Actively think about what you’re doing. Pay attention to the primary task, and manage the other conditions as you are able. Raising your awareness level will keep you actively thinking and in control of what you can do.
Distractions and stress are manageable. Consider these three self-coaching skills:
1. Manage yourself “as you think, so you go.”
2. Raise your awareness level to active thinking.
3. Ask a question.
If you’ll practice “Ask a question” before starting any task, you will raise your awareness from automatic to focused (active thinking), and will be managing yourself. If these skills are practiced regularly, human error can virtually be eliminated and you’ll see that you can manage distractions and stress as well.
About the Author: Michael S. Haro, Ph.D., known to most of his clients as “Dr. Mike,” is founder and president of the Self Coaching Center. A retired practicing psychologist, he became involved in industrial safety consulting and developed a process called Self Coaching, which he uses to assist companies in the design, development and implementation of Behavior Safety.