Monday, March 4, 2013

The Attraction of Distractions

Let's face it, even before technology came along and made it easier, we had little difficulty in allowing ourselves to become distracted from seemingly 'important' tasks.  Now the advent of the internet and the advancement of technology have allowed our distractions to become just one click away!  Enough so that I have heard productivity consultants refer to our electronic devices as 'Weapons of Mass Distraction'!

We have, in fact, become so obsessed with these devices that recent reports have found that 67% of cell phone owners checked their phone for missed calls/messages/alerts - even when they had received no notice of any being received.  Additionally, more than half reported sleeping with their phone by their bed so that they wouldn't miss any calls or messages while they were sleeping.  In becoming more 'connected' through technology we are becoming more disconnected with our work and what drives our success.

If we think of a Distraction as being anything that pulls us away from our Purpose, as opposed to simply our Task, the need to minimize and/or control our distractions becomes more important.  How then can we control our distractions to increase our productivity? The following five tips are key for controlling the siren call of your favourite distractions.

1.  Stop Multi-Tasking.  I have written before about the dangers of multi-tasking (see Multitasking - Friend or Foe).  Recent research has now found that your IQ points will drop for any day that you change tasks more than 10 times over the course of it.  5 full points for Women and 15 points for Men.  Yes, sorry guys, but research does show that you have more challenges with multitasking than women.  In essence, multitasking itself is proving to be a distraction, often negatively impacting both quality and quantity of work produced.

2.  Plan Backward.  Many of us schedule our time wrong and create To-Do lists with too many big-ticket items on it.  Merely looking at it is overwhelming.  Instead, we should start with our final objective in mind and work it backward.  Start with the goal, break it down into milestones and then individual tasks.  Put the tasks on your To-Do lists.  Looking at smaller items on your daily lists seems less-daunting and increases the likelihood of getting it done.  Additionally, the more we can break our objectives down into smaller bites the less prone we are to interrupt them with distractions.

3.  Establish Routines.  Having established routines and times set for handling mundane items (such as emails, returning calls, checking on your Facebook status) prevents you from doing so constantly.  You know you'll get to it, you know it will be waiting for you, but you will now be checking it on your time, not on someone else's posting schedule.

4.  Own your Agenda.  I love the quote... "An emergency on your part does not constitute and emergency on mine", and it is fully applicable to this point.  You need to set boundaries and guard your schedule and timelines.  Other people have their own Agendas and will be working toward fulfilling them.  Your agenda can quickly become 'busy' with simply getting things done for everyone else.  They get to check off items from their To-Do list but yours remains intact.  Ensure that you recognise that their Agenda is no more important than your own.  I'm not saying to not be responsive to others, but don't feel that you need to drop what you are doing every time that someone else has an 'emergency'.  Assess then respond.  Often 'later' still works.

5.  Work in Chunks.  Research indicates that our productivity remains highest when we work in 60 to 90 minute intervals, scheduled with short recuperative breaks in between.  This is how our body was built...  learning to work within its normal and natural rhythms helps us to maintain our productivity, focus and, most importantly, energy.  (more information on this can be found in the article...  Turning Energy into Time, or by taking a look at our ebook on the subject)

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