Are you easily distracted? Posted on 29 Aug 09:04 , 0 comments

Are you easily distracted?

I conducted two experiments to write this newsletter. The results are a little embarrassing.
Last newsletter I wrote about interruption, the partner in crime to distraction.
There is a distinct difference between how these best friends destroy your productivity:
Interruptions are created by others.  Distractions are created by you.
My first experiment was designed to assess my phone addiction. (Yes, we’re all a little addicted- even me.)
On Saturday, I put my phone in the drawer and left the house without it.
Instead, I carried a small notebook which was about the same size as my phone.
Every time I reached for my phone I took note of why I wanted it.
Here are my notes:

  • The attendant at the bakery was over-familiar so I wanted to look at my phone to pretend I had something more important to do than answer her unwanted questions.

  • I was bored when I was stopped at a red pedestrian crossing sign and wanted stimulus.

  • I wanted to drop into the nearest Bunnings and had photos on my phone of something I wanted advice on fixing.

  • I wanted to sms my friend Meredith to ask her a question (which I forgot by the time I wrote the note about it a minute later).

  • I wanted to look up lyrics for the Bangles song “Hazy Shade of Winter” as my husband and I spontaneously started singing it walking through a park and couldn’t remember all the words.

  • I wanted to post something witty I’d thought of to social media.

  • I found a delicious new restaurant and wanted to brag about it to my Facebook friends. 

As you can imagine, I got by without my phone just fine. 

Even better, without my phone I found that I enjoyed more of what was going on around me. 
On my next workday I continued with my note pad.  This time, during a period of high concentration, I wrote myself a note every time I was distracted by something that wanted to take my attention away.
Here’s what I wrote over the course of an hour:

  • Hungry- want to fry up some halloumi.

  • Hungry- want to toast multi-grain sour dough and put honey on it.

  • Hungry- want some Greek yogurt.

  • Email (clients name) to see how they are doing.

Yes.  It's embarrassing.  I think about food a lot.  Even when I'm not really hungry.  
And no.  There was nothing distracting me that couldn’t wait until after I’d finished my high value task.
Try these experiments yourself.   You’ll end up with a list of triggers for the bad habit of distracting yourself from your priorities.
Here are my top 5 strategies to help you overcome distractions:
1. Identify your priorities

When you know your priorities and you find yourself distracted you can simply take your attention back to what you need to focus on. 
In our productivity program, we encourage people to clearly define their top three priorities every quarter. 
Do you know your priorities?  Answer this question:

What are the two to three most important projects, tasks or focus areas that, if you did those three things and nothing else, you’d move yourself, your company and your team forward towards your goals?
When you find yourself distracted by all of the things your monkey mind throws at you, you can recognise them for what they are.  Distractions from your priorities. 
Once recognised, you can bring your attention back to your priorities.  And take the next necessary action to move yourself forward.
Tell yourself:
“I’m focused on product development, client acquisition and retention.”
Likewise, identify your personal priorities such as:
“My health, my partner, my family and my passions.”
2. Plan and block out time for your priorities

Make sure you have time in your diary each week to plan.  Use this appointment to block out time for your priorities in the weeks that follow.
When you’re at your desk putting in the time you’ve blocked out for strategic work, you can fight off distractions until your allotted end time.
It’s easier to maintain concentration in blocks of time.  Manage your energy well by understanding the optimal length of time for you.  For some people this is an hour, for others it’s 45 minutes. 

What’s yours?  That is, the ideal length of time that you can focus on a task before you need to restore your energy?

Likewise, most of us have an optimal time of day to complete certain work.  I prefer mornings for creative tasks like writing.  I prefer afternoons for team meetings.  I’m usually brain dead from 3:30 pm on-wards so save short tasks that don’t require creative thinking for this time of day. 
Determine the optimal rhythm for your day and schedule accordingly.  

And remember, make your weekly planning time sacred.
3. Optimise your environment 

Everything on your desk is a distraction.
The post it notes reminding you to do something.  The emails you’ve printed to remind yourself to do them later.  The piles of paperwork you’re amassing for no apparent reason.  The empty coffee cups…
Clear out the clutter.  Most of us keep more information (and stuff in general) than we need. It hinders your productivity.  (Be brutal).
Develop a better task management system than your desk.   Post it notes in the corner of your eye while you’re working are just another distraction. (Try the task function of outlook instead).
Develop the habit of putting work away before you move on to a new task. (Scan it, file it, shred it).
You’ll find that when your working space is inviting and clutter free you’re more likely to want to spend time there and to do good work. 
4. Workout your brain

Overcoming distractions is about learning to gain mastery over your mind. 
Like any muscle the brain gets better- faster, stronger and more flexible- with exercise. The three best techniques to help you gain mastery over your mind are meditation, exercise, and journal writing.  
I meditate every morning before I rise. 
By doing this, I practice techniques that I can immediately apply as I need to during the day. 

Perhaps someone has annoyed me- I’ll take my attention to my breath before I say something unproductive.  Or, I’ll lose concentration in a meeting and use a mindful technique to bring my attention back to the room. 
Research tells us that we can benefit from as little as five minutes of meditation per day. 

When you press snooze tomorrow morning, try meditating for five minutes instead of simply going back to sleep.

Exercise is great for the body but what it does for the mind may be more important.  
You push yourself a little further than you want to.  You get out of bed early in winter.  You gain incremental improvements in your running, weights, or yoga.  All of these achievements and lessons translate back to your work.

You're teaching your mind focus and discipline.  
Journal writing gives you an opportunity to script your life.  
I will write more about this soon.  Let’s just say for now that it’s a great habit to use at the start and/or end of each day as a:

  • Gratitude practice;
  • Tool to problem solve:
  • Way to script your setbacks;
  • Creative brainstorming technique;
  • Way to dig out your real motivations and fears;
  • Way to commit to your priorities; and
  • Strategy to re-frame a negative situation or conflict you are ruminating on.

5. Avoid internal politics

Internal politics are just another distraction. 

We waste an enormous amount of discretionary energy getting involved in drama that doesn’t need our input.  
Refer back to rule one.  If getting involved in internal politics doesn’t align with your priorities back off.
When I find myself getting distracted by internal politics I tell myself to:
“Get back in your box” or “Toughen up, princess”   
Refocus on your priorities.  Go for a run if you need to but don’t let the wrong things distract you.
Surround yourself with people who are making things happen rather than gossiping about others. They’re also more likely to tell you to disengage when you find yourself getting distracted by politics. They’re the people who tell you to:
“Let it go,” “Don’t take it personally” or “Don’t get involved”. 
Probably the best advice you’ll hear all day.
Stay focused on your priorities.  Keep them in sight and pay attention to them.  Everything else is a distraction.
Keep moving forward- I believe in you.

Are you easily distracted? Do distractions impact on your ability to get high value tasks done? We love helping professionals to be productive at work and at home. Join our April Online Optimising Your Personal Performance Program and learn strategies to overcome distractions.