How to overcome the power of distraction

No SoundThe other day my husband was watching one of our favourite movies on television. I was wandering by and when I saw When Harry Met Sally on the screen, I quickly joined him on the couch. It was just getting to one of my favourite parts … when boom … a commercial comes on telling us about a new laundry detergent. Talk about ruining the mood.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this blog post. The answer is, a lot. Stay with me here.

Your trip down a rabbit hole

Here’s a scenario: You’re writing your blog or mapping out a great new program … when boom … a notification pops up on your computer screen. Aunt Betty has sent you an email. You’ve been waiting for her to get back to you about theatre tickets so you decide to open it. This is the beginning of your journey down the rabbit hole. By the time you’ve answered her email (plus a few others you happened to notice) that rhythm of writing your blog or great idea is long gone. It’s likely not going to return anytime soon and without considerable effort.

It’s about willpower

On some level, we all know those notifications and alarms that divert our attention aren’t the best thing for our productivity. But how many of us actually have the courage to turn them off? I suggested it to one of my clients and she looked at me in complete horror.

If you feel the same way, here are some cold hard facts that may change your mind:

  • The time spent per day being interrupted and trying to refocus is 2.1 hours. (2009, Basex)
  • The average employee spends 28% of their time dealing with unnecessary interruptions followed by “recovery time” to get back on track. (2009, Basex)
  • The Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London suggests that your IQ falls 10 points when you’re fielding constant emails, text messages and calls.  This is the same loss you’d experience if you had missed an entire night’s sleep.  (Yoga Journal, p. 22, 12/2005).

Three ways to break the habit

Here are three things you can do right now, to limit the flow of distractions into your work day:

  1. Turn off email notifications on your computer during times when your complete attention is needed.
  2. Schedule times for focus work. If your office environment isn’t free from distractions and interruptions, then go somewhere that is.
  3. Turn off your cell phone during focus time. The cell phone’s buzzing and dinging when you receive a call, text or email message will undoubtedly drive you to distraction.

Try these three tips the next time you absolutely, positively have to get something done. I know you’ll be amazed at the results. You may even like the peace. I warn you, it is addictive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch When Harry Met Sally. I found it on a movies-on-demand station. No commercials, just me and my Kleenex box.

How do you prevent distractions from sneaking in to your workday … or do you? Share your comments below and continue the conversation.

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