Tactic for combatting distraction

It’s frog and toad mating season on the farm. The nighttime is noisy with nature sounds and the pond water ripples with round tadpoles. The farmer is full of mating factoids, like toads enjoy a threesome. Here’s a photo from the farmer:

Frog Threesome

Meanwhile, Ben Casnocha sent this link to me about sexual harassment at work. I write a lot about harassment (like you should not report it) because the rules of harassment fascinate me. What is harassment? And what is “I love you?” For someone with Asperger Syndrome, it is not obvious. Also, like all women, I have had to deal with my fair share of harassment.

It turns out that men and women in their 20’s report the same levels of harassment. Some cases are considered harassment when a female manager calls a male subordinate “sweetie.” And because showing any porn at work sets the tone for disrespect among co-workers, (a big problem at the SEC,) this post might pass for harassment if I called a male subordinate in to my office to look at it.

But now I’m thinking about distractions. Sexual harassment is really only a problem to you if it distracts you from what you’d rather be doing in your life. The same way you judge if alcohol is a problem is, maybe, the way you judge everything. I am so easily drawn into an email like Ben’s. I click his link, then links within his link, and then, six hours have passed and I’m an intelligent conversationalist on a topic I had never heard about before that morning.

To the farmer, the farm is like the Internet–a tunnel of treats to fall into instead of getting back to work. There are the blackberries and deer and barn swallows and the frogs. But the farmer has self-discipline. He carries a camera, snaps a picture of the frogs, and then gets right back on the tractor.

My transitions are much more leisurely and, to be honest, I never know if I will make it to my intended next task. So I have started chanting a mantra to myself, (which I found on Lifehacker), that I think is going to help. The chant is all the productivity books in the world, distilled down to eleven words:

One thing at a time. Most important thing first. Start now.

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  1. Kingsley Tagbo
    Kingsley Tagbo says:

    I think that it is a simple matter of consideration. While you may like or enjoy certain manners / behaviors / interests, it is harassment when you introduce it to other people who do not feel the same way or appreciate it … especially when it has nothing to do with getting work done.

    If one focuses on getting work done and judges most office conversations or behaviors by it, a lot of things that office colleagues will be seen as harassment

  2. Lisa Hickey
    Lisa Hickey says:

    I like your mantra Penelope. When I need to get back into a project that’s overwhelming me and therefore easily distracted from: “Start somewhere. Start anywhere.” And lately, (since we’re talking frogs here, and I like to stay on topic). “Eat the frog first.” (Whatever is the ugliest, worst task of the day, get that over with. First.). Thanks.

  3. Barbara Hunter
    Barbara Hunter says:

    You and that farmer make a great team! I copied that mantra and am going to start now!
    Have a wonderful day~

  4. Sketch Country
    Sketch Country says:

    It strikes me that there’s something (I suspect inintentionally) inately selfish about the suggestion that “sexual harassment is really only a problem to you if it distracts you from what you'd rather be doing in your life.”

    If in one situation, harassment is tolerated by an individual, that simply normalises the behaiour of the person harassing. In other cases, perhaps where the power difference between harasser and harassed is greater or the harassed person more marginalised within the group, the behaviour may be intolerable by another individual.

    Harassment is always a problem, and always to be challenged. Just because it doesn’t distract you, doesn’t mean you should ignore it – that simply perpetuates an atmosphere in which such things are acceptable.

    I could quote Niemoller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came…), but I suspect I’ve said enough!

  5. Todd
    Todd says:

    Well spoken, Penelope. That last phrase just got cut out and taped to my monitor. A good bit of extra drive to look at this morning!


  6. Donny
    Donny says:

    I just read an article you wrote about how plastic surgery can get you a raise. Well I would be willing to bet that watching porn would get you a raise also….. should you do it? If you break down the barriers between what separates you as a women your male counterparts as men I’m willing to bet you will get farther in the workplace. Think about it, men were in the workplace first, boys will be boys, and boys grow up to be men that have historically watched a lot of porn in the workplace. By writing an argument for plastic surgery, a procedure made even more popular by porn, and then bashing porn in the workplace, you have made the wall even taller between you and your straight heterosexual counterparts.

    By the way I don’t even watch porn all that much, I’m just stating my opinion on your conflicting views about beauty, attraction, men, women, and how we work together or apart.

    • avant garde designer
      avant garde designer says:

      I suspect as time goes on we’re going to see many more conflicting views from PT. My guess is that being married to the farmer will create a whole new set of values and what we’ll find is a new PT, different than the old PT. I’m looking forward to an interesting ride of transition.

  7. ml.jpierrebrunet
    ml.jpierrebrunet says:

    I like your mantra Penelope. When I need to get back into a project that’s overwhelming me and therefore easily distracted from: “Start somewhere.By the way I don’t even watch porn all that much, I’m just stating my opinion on your conflicting views about beauty, attraction, men, women, and how we work together or apart.

  8. Alisa Bowman
    Alisa Bowman says:

    “Sexual harassment is really only a problem to you if it distracts you from what you'd rather be doing in your life.” I’m not quite sure that transition worked. Sexual harassment is more than a distraction. It can ruin your career if the harasser is persistent enough. These folks do much worse than make sexual comments and put porn on their computers. Part of the harassment often centers on spreading false rumors, sabotaging your work, and worse.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, that’s my point: That it can’t ruin your career. If the place you work at employs someone who is a total jerk, then leave. Get another job.

      And, no one controls your reputation but you. If you take control of you online brand, then no amount of offline rumors can overcome your power online profile.

      Victim attitudes only work when women don’t have as much power as men. At this point, women in their 20s earn more than men in their 20s, and more women are in the workforce than men. Women can take control of their own careers. Sexual harassment cannot derail a career, only a job. But there are more jobs to be had. Don’t be a whiner.


      • Shannon
        Shannon says:

        Sexual harassment can make you feel violated, ashamed, dirty, angry, and depressed. It’s a violation of basic human rights. A woman isn’t taking control of her career by ignoring offensive behavior. Ultimately, each person has to decide what’s right for herself (or himself) in terms of whether or not to report it, whether or not to look for a new job. But if it’s true that women have as much power in the workforce as you say, then why on earth should they not hold the harasser accountable for his unacceptable actions? Otherwise, you’d just perpetuate the idea that it’s OK for someone to violate the right of any person to have dignity and respect at work.

  9. Jedi-J
    Jedi-J says:

    Whenever I doubt that I am indeed an aspie it is stories like this that reconfirm that I am. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Amy
    Amy says:

    My mantra is: Read Penelope’s post. Then I’ll do something important. Start now. :0)

    It works!


  11. jacqjolie
    jacqjolie says:

    Ten years ago I got a new job with a great boss that turned out to be a sexual harasser that I eventually reported. I’d just had my youngest son and had split from his dad when I was 4 months pregnant. Was going through a bit of postpartum, definitely sleep deprivation – distraction was my middle name in those months.

    That harassment ended up being a great gift to me in hindsight as the stress of the situation every day (and crying every night about it) put a fire under me to accumulate enough F-U money so I’d never have to put up with stuff like that again.

    Having grown up on a farm, I believe that the practice of farming leads to good training in the area of a long-term outlook and natural prioritization – and self-discipline of course. Love your mantra.

    Another mantra that’s served me well from my 90 y.o. farmer dad:
    “Make hay when the sun shines.”

  12. Jen
    Jen says:

    I think I am going to make that mantra my own! It says it all. I always have so many things to get done and feel like I’m never balanced if I don’t accomplish it all. This week is no exception. I had planned to do a lot this past weekend, but my grandfather took a turn for the worst. I flew up to New York Thursday and he passed away Friday. Funeral was Sunday and I just got back home to Charlotte late Monday night. I’m completely off balance with what needs to get done this week and I think focusing on one thing at a time and the important things such as making sure I call my mom everyday to make sure she is hanging in there, will be very helpful.

  13. F
    F says:

    If you’ve previously dated or had a fling with your boss, almost everything constitutes harassment.

  14. Siddhartha
    Siddhartha says:

    Penelope, while I love your new mantra (and enthusiastically retweeted it yesterday), upon some deeper consideration I'm not sure I can buy in.

    If the most important thing is a big, time consuming project I can't always do it first or I'd never get to some less important but more urgent tasks on my plate until the big project was complete.

    If I split up my big task and do less important tasks in between sections, I'm not really doing one thing at a time.

    So here's my mantra: short periods of focused effort, remember what's important, begin now.

  15. Margaret G.
    Margaret G. says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve got a mantra, too: “You’re in the momeeeeeent.” You sing it kind of Frank Sinatra-like and it’s for when you find yourself obsessing about everything, from past to future, excluding the present that is right in front of you.
    Ironically, I was supposed to be doing quite a few other things when I stopped to read this post. And some of the links. Guess I’ll get back on task again. That’s not to say this wasn’t important.

  16. Rick @ Resell Rights Ebook Store
    Rick @ Resell Rights Ebook Store says:

    Currently I have a couple large projects in the works. One at work which I am having the hardest time pulling the teams together to work as one rather then separate groups. The second project is a basement renovation to finely get some use out of the large unfinished space. Needless to say materials are sitting on the floor for the basement renovation but I just don’t have the get up and go to do anything with them. Especially since the weather started to warm up.

  17. R
    R says:

    Penelope, the very idea that sexual harassment should never be reported is stupid. So is the idea that sexual harassment is a mere “distraction” from what you “really want to do”. Sure, if what you “really want to do” is “have a normal life” and “live without fear of being sized up like a piece of meat” and “live with a normal mindset instead of wondering how flirty you’re going to have to act to keep your job this time”. Having been sexually harassed by my boss — who was also the owner of the company — I have to tell you, I wished so hard every day that there was someone I could report it to. And there wasn’t. So yeah, it went unreported, but if I’d had someone to report it TO, it would have stopped. With attitudes like this you are merely perpetuating a culture where sexual harassment is an acceptable practice– ‘grats on making the workplace a nastier place.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I can tell from this comment that you didn’t read the post I linked to. People get fired for reporting sexual harassment more often then they get fired for being the harasser. It’s illegal but you almost never have a case.

      If you click the link you’ll see that there is wide agreement about this in the legal community. It’s how the law is written. And companies set up HR departments with this in mind. Companies are responding to what the law dictates. Read the post.



      • Shannon
        Shannon says:

        Just because the legal community agrees doesn’t make it right. There was a time when law denied women the right to vote, but lucky for us, there were those who stuck by their principles.

      • Margaret Goerig
        Margaret Goerig says:

        What you are talking about is a right that was allowed to men and denied to women. What Penelope is talking about is something that affects men and women alike. In the comments section in the link she is talking about here, there is a man talking about the time his male boss called him a fag and then a huge investigation ensued, completing turning the man’s original complaint on its head and costing him a lot of trouble and dignity that he says was not worth it, in the end. Penelope is not advocating sexual harassment. She is advocating that we do not let ourselves turn into victims because of it and that we take routes other than the courtroom to resolve it and come out of it successfully. What better revenge in such a situation than for the harassed to step around the harasser, like an ant does to an obstacle in its path, and just keep on going?

  18. chris
    chris says:

    Maybe your mantra would work better if it were a haiku. It’s so close already. How about this?

    One thing at a time
    The most important comes first
    I will start it now

  19. Anya Coleman
    Anya Coleman says:

    Penelope, thanks for the update. My mantra was “Do it first, THEN do it better” but now I think I like this one better. Maybe I can have two? But seriously starting my business has been a challenge… thanks so much for your sharing.

  20. Jake
    Jake says:

    I knew a woman was part of a small group of women that won a sexual harassment lawsuit. It took several years for the case to wind its way through the legal system. After legal fees, they made less than $1k each.

    The EEOC posts stats about compliants (http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/sexual_harassment.cfm). Every year there are big judgement winners. If you take those large payments out of the results and average the remaining payouts amongst the remaining winners, the other winners are not getting a whole lot $ for their efforts.

  21. Hossam aboueissa
    Hossam aboueissa says:

    sexual harassment often sign of defect in psychological balance within suffering from personality disorder or shezofornia or depression or sexual complex from child period and other psychological problems,thus sexologist is the latest new branch in psychology involving to deal sexual problems ,on the other hand sociologist and psychologist and psychiatrist and sexologist are complete job description in one treatment plan

  22. Frank
    Frank says:

    Harassment is a gray subject, since it effectively is a violation of one persons boundaries. And of course these are different from person to person. Easiest example would be in the subject of religion..

    Good communication, listening and compassion go along way to heading off harassment in the first place.

  23. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    You bring up some interesting observations about self-discipline and transitions but I’m pretty sure based on comments above that they are not limited to people diagnosed with Aspergers. I also find the Internet to be a rabbit hole difficult to avoid.

  24. deepa
    deepa says:

    Another thought-provoking, practical post. Penelope, I love your real-life voice too. IT would be great if you could read all your posts out loud, record it, and podcast them as a series. While commuting, while working out, at a meeting, Penelope all the time! :)

  25. Sara
    Sara says:

    African Americans can take control of their own careers. Racism cannot derail a career, only a job. But there are more jobs to be had. Don’t be a whiner.

  26. Erin
    Erin says:

    Mmmmmm. That is a good mantra. I actually feel calmer and more focused and competent just reading it. I might have to come back to remind myself of it now and again!

  27. Eight Women Dream
    Eight Women Dream says:

    We call it “squirrel-ing” or “bright shiny objects” when we get distracted from our tasks. Sometimes this happens to me right in the middle of a post. It’s like I don’t really want to be sitting at the computer writing so I search the Internet and end up watching Flavia cards.
    I think we (@8WD) are even more crazy because we don’t get paid for what we do, yet we post on schedule and I end up reading Flavia cards that swirl and play music.
    Maybe someday I’ll actually send one . . .

  28. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    That is an important chant to keep in mind. I may need to start saying the same thing. Sometimes my to-do list is so long that I’m not quite sure where to start…and then there’s the fact that I can get *so distracted* on Twitter. There is no end to the intelligence, humor, and beauty I find there.

    What was that chant again? Oh, yes…”One thing at a time. Most important thing first. Start now.”

    Thanks for your insightful posts.

  29. ash
    ash says:

    I love your blog. I miss you posting regularily. The pictures are ok, but I hope you aren’t trying to find a picture for every blog. Your words paint fantastic pictures. Keep them coming!

  30. Glenda Pitts
    Glenda Pitts says:

    LOVE IT – Thank you again. PS – I’m convinced I’m an adult with ADHD – in other words – complete lack of discipline and order and I’ve GOT to get it under control…hence, I will continue to peruse your interruptions in to my email inbox until I get the hang of it all. Working a full time job AND starting my own home-based wellness biz is driving me to your website more and more…

  31. Jacinta
    Jacinta says:

    Sexual harrassment means different things to different people. We all have different comfort zones and different understandings of behaviour. If someone touched me inappropriately at work, I’d consider it sexual harrassment. If someone just made a crude joke in my presence, I’d probably just laugh along, but another woman might find it offensive. It can be difficult to know where to draw the line for some people!

  32. Jenyfer
    Jenyfer says:

    You state “Sexual harassment is really only a problem to you if it distracts you from what you'd rather be doing in your life.”
    Have you ever really experienced sexual harrassment? Do you know what it feels like to be treated as less than what you should be on the job by your boss? Be singled out in your office by the boss and treated unfairly? Time and time again be written-up for minor things that no one else it written-up for? All this in an office of men and you are the only woman…but you do your job outstandingly well, are out-spoken and well thought-of by everyone other than your boss!
    If you think that sexual harrassment just “distracts”, then you have NEVER experienced it!! It took a year and a half out of my life to fight a harrassment suit against my boss and finally came down to a settlement.
    YES, sexual harrassment should be reported…YES, sexual harrassment is more than a distraction, sexual harrassment is WRONG, it is illegal and should NEVER be tolerated!!!
    Penelope, I don’t know what cave or rock you crawled out of but the days of women tolerating sexual harrassment for a job are long gone!! I lived thru the fight for women’s rights, my great-grandmother was a Sufferagette, and I’m here to tell you…I WILL NOT let women like you drag us backwards!!!

  33. Kate Lewis
    Kate Lewis says:

    I have mixed reactions to your post and that makes it a goodie! I do NOT agree with sexual harrassment. It’s people skills gone off the track. But, I do agree with your comment that if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Unfortunately, the culture of some offices make SH commonplace. If this makes you uncomfortable, find another job. Some office cultures encourage gatherings based on food consumption. If you struggle with weight and health issues, find another job.

    It’s not right, but it’s not going away, so it’s up to the individual to find their happy place on the subject while not whining and moaning whereby creating a bad reputation for themselves.

    Great post!

  34. D
    D says:

    Know what the difference is between a drunk and an alcoholic?

    Drunks don’t have to go to all those meetings #rimshot

  35. Courtney
    Courtney says:

    We miss you. Come back to us and entertain us with your wit, charm, and the general hilarity of your posts.

  36. James
    James says:

    Looks like the farmer tied her up. LOL

    “Many people see the current group of college students – sometimes called ‘Generation Me’ – as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history,” said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry.

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