Proactive responses to common distractions
Recently, an inmate was released after serving a 20-year sentence. Reentering the world after two decades would probably reveal many surprises to anyone. However, this former prisoner’s only comment to the press was about his astonishment at all the people texting – and not talking – in a restaurant during his first lunch as a free man.
We live in an electronic ADD [attention deficit disorder] world. I don’t have to tell you that – you live it every day. Minutes can’t go by without cell phones ringing, text messages beeping, new emails dinging, or instant messages popping.
To someone like our inmate, locked away from the advances of electronics for a score of years, the change was overwhelming. To the rest of us, changes have been more gradual so we might not have even noticed how much more broken up our days are now than they were before. In the olden days, telephones were the primary source of business interruptions, followed by the occasional office ‘drop by’. Then came faxes, emails, smart phones and YouTube. Now, our 24/7 connectivity could distract us forever – if we let it.
Just a minute?
Like it or not, the days of the occasional interruption are gone. Before, even mediocre time managers could get away with allowing unplanned interruptions to divert their attention for a few minutes here and there. Not anymore. We’ve been forced to become proactive about managing our daily disruptions, just to focus on the work at hand.
Studies show that the time it takes to recover from an interruption is, on average, about four minutes. So if you look up at incoming emails or down at the text messages on your iPhone 15 times in a day, you’ll waste roughly an hour recovering from those interruptions – not to mention the time used handling the emails or texts themselves. More importantly, you’ve ceded control of your day to your gadgets. US President Barack Obama recently commented that we cannot avoid these changes in the way information is delivered to us, so we have no choice but to adapt to them. By minimising interruptions, you’ll get more done and adapt easily to the new office culture.
Being proactive about handling distractions requires an active decision to take back control. You have the power to decide when and how you’ll respond to each interruption. Here are a few tips to get you started.
• Eliminate the source of distractions – silence new message reminders, minimise your inbox, turn off the mobile phone and shut your door.
• Group similar tasks – when you work on similar tasks in focused batches, you’ll develop a flow, get more done and discourage distractions.
• Set a time limit for a task and challenge yourself to complete it within that time frame.
• Make appointments – instead of allowing colleagues to stop by with their questions and ideas, encourage them to make appointments with you and each other (to the extent that is possible with your position). This makes managing your day much more effective, enabling you to dedicate time to what’s important.
• Make appointments with yourself – and keep them. Setting specific times to deal with email and voicemails will streamline your day.
• Cut distractions short. The moment you find yourself getting distracted, pull yourself back and refocus. Don’t allow it to continue.
• Set boundaries for when you’ll dedicate time to work outside of your normal office schedule. Value your personal time – turn your phone off when get home, leave it in the locker at the gym, and set a cut-off time for it each night.
It’s so easy to get buried in the information that’s thrown at us each day and lose sight of what’s really important. Remember to keep control or else distracters will control you. As all sorts of information compete for your attention, you must keep your priorities in check – and turning off your phone is always a good place to start.