5 Keys to less distractions!Rick Selover
I know everyone of us (including YOU) have been there.
Even with the best of intentions to stay on task, finish a job, complete an important project or get some shit done we promised ourselves or someone else, we would absolutely complete today… for sure!… yet we still find ourselves stopping and scrolling through social media for “just a minute” (which turns into an hour), when we should be working on a project. Or we get up and go look for a quick snack or a drink (but we weren’t really hungry, were we?)
Our phones ding or vibrate & we can’t help but fumble for our cell the moment we hear a notification. And then there’s email! If we aren’t checking it every five minutes, we worry we might miss something important, and let’s be perfectly honest… have you every really missed an email that was REALLY that important?… of course not, but it’s a great excuse to distract ourselves from the task at hand, isn’t it?
Digital devices, email and social media all vie for your attention at any given moment. The cost of these distractions to your personal and professional lives is well documented. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that it takes a typical office worker 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption, and an experiment by the authors of The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success found that work interruptions decreased accuracy by 20 percent.
Most days, even when we feel like we’re dialed-in, focused and in high-production mode, we still fail to really accomplish what we could of, if we had stayed on-task… or less distracted… or had better clarity on our goals or objectives were for the day, right?
Let me give you a real-life scenario how this normally plays out for me:
I planned to spend about an hour and ½ working on my next podcast episode, I figure I can accomplish completing the message I want to share and roughly format… no problem. I go down into my studio at 6:30pm with goal of being done by 8pm and back upstairs to relax for a bit before I start getting sleepy (I DO get up before 5am each day, so YES, I am a little sleepy by 9pm!)
Before I can even start the writing process, my mind wanders to “what’s the cover art going to be?” or ‘who am I going to line up for next interview”, which then my mind trails to “oh yeah, I need to make a note to get back to so-&-so with some time slots”. So I stop (before starting…lol) and jot down a note to remember.
Ok, back to my writing… I work for about half an hour, in the groove as they say, then my wife texts me from upstairs “hey, something’s screwy with the TV, can you come up and take a look at it please?”
So upstairs I go to play “cable guy”, figure out and correct the issue (disconnect & reconnect the streaming device) and soon the TV is back working, but now the news comes on with a “breaking news” alert about a major snowstorm heading our way, so I watch that for a few minutes, turns out 2-3inches the news considers worthy of “breaking news”… for God’s sake, this is Michigan, we grew-up with 1-2ft snowfalls during each winter, hell I’m used to wiping 3 inches of snow off my grill with my bare hand just so I can BBQ some Italian sausage or chicken, that’s NOT a major snowstorm! But now that’s stuck in my head because I have to travel in the morning, could be an issue… better check back on that later tonight!
I should probably grab some peanuts or pretzels and a water while I’m up here before I head back downstairs… may get hungry once I get going, and I sure don’t want to stop again, right?
Back down to the studio to get serious work done (it’s now after 7:30).
Put some white noise on so I can focus and get back at my project, work for another 15 minutes and my phone starts vibrating 4 times in a row, so I stop what I’m doing, grab my phone to find out what’s going on?
Missed 4 “Scam Likely” phone calls (thank God I missed em), but while I have my phone in hand, should probably check Gmail real quick, see if I heard back from any prospects yet??
Now that I’m doing that, might as well hope over to FB, IG and LinkedIn to check activity on a couple posts from earlier…?
You get the picture, right?… here it is coming up on 8:15pm (15 min past my pre-determined stopping time) and I haven’t got jack-squat done!
As you can see, although my intentions were to focus on a project and get it completed, I let myself get distracted several times, some from outside sources (wife/ TV/ news), but mostly from me shifting my focus and attention away from what I knew I should have been doing.
Therein lies the problem… it’s not the world around us that distracts us from what are goals are, our own mind does it all by itself… and we let it!
Like what you heard in my little story is, that distractions can seem impossible to avoid. Statistics show that distractions cause a massive loss in productivity. The typical manager is interrupted every 8 minutes, and employees generally spend 28% of their time dealing with unnecessary interruptions and trying to get back on track. We are leaking away personal and professional productivity like a broken water pipe every day.
You see our own brains are programed to steer us towards something comfortable, enjoyable, exciting, or stimulating when we start getting bogged down in uncomfortable, non-stimulating or boring mental tasks (like focusing on getting a project completed), and will subconsciously try to pull us off task and have thinking more pleasurable thoughts…. Like daydreaming!
So, what can we do, right?… it’s frustrating, I know!… BOY, do I know!
This is NOT a productivity problem, or goal setting problem, I have a couple good episodes that already address those like Episode #12, 26 & 36, but this is more of a focus & clarity…. gaining distraction control than anything else.
If you searched you could find hundreds of articles on this subject, with hundreds of steps or ideas to minimize distractions, but you don’t have time to all that research… that would just be another distraction, another way to avoid doing the needed work sitting in front of you, right?
So, to save you the non-productive time, I’ve put together a short list of the “5 Keys to Less Distractions” for you!
- Make a plan, then eat the frog first!
I know that sounds disgusting, but you’re NOT really going to eat a frog!.. it’s just an expression. What this means is figure out what your most important objectives are (3 max), write them down on paper, paste a note with those on it where you’ll be working, and start with the #1 most important right away… eat the frog first!
- Distraction-proof your surroundings
Start with a clean, clutter-free area to do your work… clutter will automatically draw your mind away from whatever you’re doing at some point, so eliminate the possibility before you start. Next, put your phones ringer & notifications on “silent”, NOT vibrate (you will still be listening for it, even when it buzzes) so you are not interrupted. Then set the phone in the next room so the temptation to reach over & grab it doesn’t exist!
If you need to work on the computer, try working with the WiFi off, so you don’t constantly check your email. If in an office setting, try to use a room that you can close the door, or if in a cubicle with no way to isolate, have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds (this is a great visual cue for others not to bother you). Lastly, try to choose time slots that are your highest energy cycles of the day, and you are least likely to be interrupted, called into a meeting, etc… or if working at home, a time when kids are at school, napping, at practice or attending something.
- Don’t let your mind go on vacation!
We spend nearly 50% of our waking time thinking about something other than what we’re supposed to be doing, according to one Harvard study. We are on autopilot, and our mind is wandering, in part to avoid the effort of focusing on something. The key to better productivity is to notice when your mind is distracted and bring your attention back on task.
We do this by paying attention to your thoughts and recognizing when your mind starts drifting. This allows you to manage what you focus on and redirect your thoughts when you start fading away. Instead of allowing yourself to keep daydreaming, you actively put the brakes on this distraction.
Pay attention to what distractions are particularly hard to avoid, so you can catch them sooner. When you feel a desire to give in to a distraction, take a breath and purposely choose not to react to it. Once you’ve given in and allowed yourself to focus on something else, like reading emails, it’s harder to regroup and bring your attention back to the task at hand.
Keep in mind, it will take possibly another 25 minutes to get back into level of attention you were just at!
In short, be mindful of your thoughts, instead of allowing yourself to skip between task and distraction.
- Implement the Pomodoro Technique
This is an easy technique to implement & can make your dedicated focus time much more efficient and achievable. When you try to spend a long time on completing something that will move you towards your goals, or complete a large project, most of us think “well, I’m just going to work longer on this, put extra hours in on this, work thru the weekend if I need to”, but we just end up getting burnt-out and really wasting more time than we think.
Our brains aren’t very efficient when we work this way, we will get distracted, off-course, sleepy, irritated, frustrated and basically non-productive after a surprisingly short amount of time.
But there is great system for getting maximum performance out of our minds… it is called the Pomodoro Technique (you can Google this for more details), but quite simply, what the Pomodoro Technique is a time schedule when focusing on a high-value task, something that takes great focus, spend 25 minutes uninterrupted on the task, then take a 5-minute break, another 25 minutes uninterrupted on the task, then take a 5-minute break and repeat until task is completed. During that 5-minute break, get up, move, take a quick walk, do push-ups or jumping jacks, do something physical, as that helps your brain recover quicker & then your mind can focus again sharply for another 25 minutes.
So, if you have totally blown Tip #2, and you can’t possibly work with out internet access (phone or computer), then I have a ‘secret hack” below that may help!
*Secret hack* – Plugin headphones to your phone/ iPad or computer, go to YouTube and search for “Binaural Beats”, these are awesome sound & music/sound combo playlists (usually 2-4 hours in length) that have certain sound wavelengths that allow your mind to focus intensely and when played through earbuds or headphones, does an incredible job of keeping out all other distractions. Follow this process & you will save countless hours on those big projects and goals.
- DO NOT try to multitask!
The great lie we have been led to believe, is that multi-tasking is a useful skill to master. Especially when you’re having to deal with lots of information, in a short chunk of time.
Our brains can’t really think of 2 different things at the exact same time, it just doesn’t.
If you doubt this fact, try a little test for yourself… try to think or focus on 2 separate things at the same time, like: visualize & count the number of windows in your home, while simultaneously thinking of what you need to pick up from the grocery store today… impossible, right?… now your mind can try to pivot between the two, but can’t actually process both thoughts at the same time.
A study from the University of California Irvine found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task after getting distracted.
So multi-tasking can actually WASTE your time because it takes a while for your brain to get back to the task at hand.
So, if multi-tasking isn’t always the amazing superpower that we’re led to believe and distractions are the root of many time management problems, let’s stick to the methods mentioned above, some simple ways you can reduce distractions around you.
If you manage to implement these 5 tips, and successfully accomplish the task(s) in the time you wanted to spend doing it, without allowing your mind to derail you repeatedly, make sure to reward yourself for doing so … doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive, maybe get yourself an ice cream, watch your favorite show, see a movie or just take a leisurely walk by yourself to reflect on what absolute bad-ass you are and how you CAN be focused with a task or project!
Job well done…Way to go!!