Many people I know have a magical gift — they are able to work productively… with a TV on! I, on the other hand, am not one of those people. Instead, I seem to be physically compelled to pay attention to any TV in the vicinity, no matter how inane the programming might be.
I’ve always felt frustrated when I find myself in a situation where people are watching TV while I’m trying to work. However, recently I started thinking about this situation differently, by viewing this as a sort of meditation.
Let me explain. In meditation, you sometimes try to focus your attention on something (such as your breath), and keep your attention on that thing in spite of distractions (such as anxious thoughts). I know, I know — this isn’t every type of meditation, and some people would say you aren’t “trying” to do anything when meditating. But some forms of meditation (that I practice) do involve focusing your attention. This is then very much like the situation I find myself in — wanting to focus on one thing (my work) when distractions are present (the TV).
In some ways, meditation is a skill that you can get better at, in that you can get better at focusing your attention. So it seems likely that I could get better at focusing my attention on my work with practice.
I’ve recently been trying to view working with the TV on as an “attentional training” exercise. I stay aware of my attention and consciously try to keep it focused on my work. While I’m still not as productive as I am when it’s quiet (so far), this has helped me get more done than before, and has taken away some of the frustration. I imagine a similar technique could apply to other distractions as well.