If you are easily distracted, your level of stress likely rises with these distractions. In this state, your potential for making poor decisions and mistakes increases. Leaders and managers constantly face their share of distractions, so it's important to know how to handle them in the appropriate manner.

"The gift of intelligence is critical to survival in everyday situations," sociologist William Helmreich says in "The Survivors Club." He continues, "Thinking quickly. Brains accompanied by common sense. This basic intelligence enables people quickly to size up situations, break down and analyze problems, and make good decisions."

Basic intelligence is possessed by all, but differs from book learning or IQ. When practiced, expanded and put to effective use, basic intelligence depends on active thinking, attention to detail, and application of options and choices. The application of safe, productive practices, is a goal worth mastering.

Distractions are always present, and your reaction controls your behavior. The slogan, "As you think, so you go," fits because your thoughts direct your actions and behavior. Everything you do is a result of what you are thinking at the time.

The following exercise may be useful for evaluating your thoughts and their potential impact. Take a look at the 15 statements below, and note the number of "true" or "mostly true" responses you have.

  1. I feel pressured to get things done.
  2. Family members put a lot of pressure on me.
  3. I put pressure on myself to get things done.
  4. I am tempted to take shortcuts to get things done.
  5. I have too many things on my plate.
  6. Family members are demanding and pile things on me to do.
  7. I feel my to-do list is out of control.
  8. I can't talk to my family about my need for help and support.
  9. I find myself starting other tasks before finishing one I'm on.
  10. I am expected to multitask — do multiple things at same time.
  11. I'm overwhelmed by expectations forced on me.
  12. Multitasking is a difficult process for me to manage.
  13. I am stressed by all the duties expected of me.
  14. I am distressed and anxious because of personal challenges.
  15. My stress is definitely a distracting factor for me.

Determine your "risk of distraction" by counting the number of "true" responses:

  • 0-2: Very low risk
  • 3-5: Low risk
  • 6-8: Moderate risk
  • 9-11: High risk
  • 12-15: Very high risk

A very low or low risk score indicates you are managing current distractions. You are doing what needs to be done to stay focused. You are an active thinker.

A moderate risk score raises an "alert" flag. Distractions are having an impact. You notice feeling uneasy or frustrated by situations or events. Your stress 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 this effect. This is an alert. Denial is the first reaction many people have to unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. Re-examine what might be going on by asking what you can do right now. This will raise your awareness by getting you to focus.

A high or very high risk score is a "red" flag and true sign of danger. Distractions and stress have reached levels where conditions have taken control. You are not focused and in danger of making poor decisions.

Now is the time to stop and ask this question: "What can I do right now?" Answer this question, then focus on what can be done productively. Asking the question raises your awareness, helps you focus and gets you to actively think about options available.

Time pressure is a condition in which a demand for your time comes from another source. Someone is telling you to get a task done in an unreasonable time frame, increasing stress and decreasing your ability to manage. Emotional reactions result, and effectiveness decreases.

Time is a behavior if you impose a time frame on yourself. For example, you give yourself 20 minutes to complete a task. Other commitments must wait if you are 15 minutes past your allotted time. Behavior time pressure is a self-imposed challenge.

The good news is distractions and stress are manageable. "Asking a question" before beginning a task raises awareness and allows you to manage yourself. Practiced regularly, mistakes can virtually be eliminated. Do what you can do, and do it well.