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Vulnerable to Distraction? The Truth Is You Actively Seek It Out

Vulnerable to Distraction? The Truth Is You Actively Seek It Out

In a world of cell phones, Facebook, and an entire Internet’s worth of cat videos, it’s difficult to keep yourself from getting distracted.

If only we could rid ourselves of all these distractions in our lives! Surely we would be much more productive if we weren’t always just one click away from all the world’s gathered information. But what if it’s not the Internet’s (or any outside source for that matter) fault? What if it’s actually us who actively seek out our own distractions? Well, according to science, distracting ourselves and procrastinating has always been a part of human nature.

Distractions are addictive

We know that distractions are bad for us, and we want to be able to stay productive with the tasks at hand. Why on earth would we actively try to distract ourselves? Because it feels good, that’s why.

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Whenever we distract ourselves, be it through watching that hilarious new cat video, or filling out that useless, but oh-so-entertaining personality quiz, our brains release a dose of dopamine. Dopamine is called “the body’s feel good chemical”. Unfortunately for us, dopamine happens to be highly addictive, making us want to come back for more.

That’s why we tend to be so inclined to distract ourselves; we’re literally addicted to it. Every time we procrastinate, we experience a tiny dopamine “high”, making us feel slightly better from the distraction than we would from the daunting task we’re escaping from.

And the stress and anxiety we often experience as we return to work after a bout of procrastination doesn’t exactly help in our brains’ conviction that distraction = good, work = bad.

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Why we love distractions

But why does it feel so good to distract ourselves? Why would our brains be so eager to reward us for scrolling through our Facebook timeline?

The simple answer: fear.

Studies have found that whenever our brains experience a sensation of anxiety, stress, or panic (such as from an overwhelming task, or too much work to be done), our bodies interpret these signals to mean impending danger, and triggers a slight fear response.

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Although our fear instinct evolved to help us survive in the past, we still have the same reactions to fear today. The typical person attempts to do everything in their power to avoid it. So if we experience a mild fear when confronted with work, our natural reaction is to distract ourselves from it, thereby removing the fear from our lives.

So whenever we’re pressured to get to work, we gladly accept any distraction that comes our way. Because even a temporary refuge of “safety” feels better than tackling the fear head on.

Becoming less vulnerable to distraction

Of course, just because it’s in your nature to distract yourself doesn’t mean you can’t beat it. There are, in fact, many ways to improve your odds of defeating those annoying distractions. And while everyone is affected to different degrees by procrastination, there are some sure-fire ways to help just about anyone get through it.

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For instance, simply admitting to yourself that your tendency for distractions is based on fear has been shown to greatly reduce procrastination. This is because simply knowing what is at the root of your distractions, you become much better at fighting them. Similarly, taking steps to reduce the stressful emotions, and by extension, your fear, associated with work has been show to work equally well.

Of course simpler solutions, such as removing any distractions in the first place (blocking your internet access, throwing your phone in a river, etc.) can greatly help your chances as well. Although this requires you to have the discipline to actually carry out these actions in the first place!

But whether your distractions come in the form of mindless internet browsing or long-winded phone calls, the fact remains that you are most likely the one to blame for seeking out your own distractions in the first place.

Featured photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg via flickr.com

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Last Updated on September 17, 2018

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

How bad really is multitasking?

It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

So what to do about it?

Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

Now, forget about how to multitask!

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Get enough rest

When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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2. Plan your day

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

4. When at your desk, do work

We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

5. Learn to say no

Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

6. Turn off notifications on your computer

For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

The bottom line

Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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