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The Ugly Truth About the Things That Distract Us Every Day

The Ugly Truth About the Things That Distract Us Every Day

Employees waste about 60 hours per month — or roughly 759 hours per year — on workplace distractions such as chatty colleagues coming into your office, unnecessary phone calls, instant message and email notifications that probably didn’t need to be answered, and more.[1] Our default condition as humans is often to respond to “push,” i.e. embrace a distraction without even realizing we’re doing it.[2]

Checking email when it pings or turning a five-minute conversation with a chatty colleague into a 35-minute one are obvious distractions. There are also hidden distractions throughout our daily lives: suddenly gazing out the window, absent-mindedly checking Facebook, online shopping, and staring at your computer but not doing anything. We are often hard-wired to pursue instant gratification, and simultaneously lack the motivation to stay focused.

Distractions keep us busy, but not productive

The end result of all these distractions is one of the great productivity challenges of our time: the confusion of “busy” and “productive.” Those words do not mean the same thing. It’s a giant lie. When you consistently give into distractions, you are only doing repetitive work that enables the operation of a task.

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This is what many workers actually don’t realize they’re doing for the bulk of a year. They’re seemingly busy but aren’t actually achieving anything. You arrive at work and start checking emails. You respond. Next thing you know, it’s 12 noon — almost lunch — and all you’ve done is answering emails. In the afternoon, you update documents. When you leave work, you haven’t really done anything big. Your day was all shallow work. You might not even realize it because you did get some things done. In fact, 7.5 out of every 10 minutes of an employee’s day is spent on these low-value tasks.[3]

Some call this “checking boxes,” but another term for it is “shallow work.” This was termed by author and Georgetown professor Cal Newport in his book Deep WorkIn shallow work, because it’s so task-driven and often immediate (putting out fires), no real improvements are made, and no big goals or breakthroughs can truly be attained. Imagine responding to emails and formatting documents for an entire calendar year, you would not feel fulfilled.

Regain your control on distractions

1. Block out uncontrollable distractions

This can be done with “time blocking,” which some also call “uninterrupted work time.”[4] Basecamp founder Jason Fried has called four hours of uninterrupted work “the greatest gift someone can give themselves.”[5]

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To execute this, simply block out time on your own office calendar — maybe a few hours Monday morning to set the tone of the week, a few hours on Wednesday to work on long-term projects, and a few hours on Friday to plan for the next week. People will often see the time, assume you are in another meeting, and not try to get access to you during those blocks unless it’s urgent. If you can successfully block out a few hours a couple of times per week, you can ultimately regain 150 hours/month of productivity.[6]

Be the CEO of your own time. You can’t always be available to everyone at that second, because you’ll run in circles on different projects and burn out.

2. Watch out for your work pattern

Once you have better control of your time, you need to find a way to reduce your internal distractions. One approach is to keep a scoreboard. Track your time and see what’s spent on shallow projects and what’s spent on deeper, strategic work.

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If you work 50 hours/week and see that only 2 hours are spent strategically, the scoreboard should indicate to you that a change is necessary. You will never completely eliminate shallow work, no. Some things just need to get done. But you need to have a balance that leans toward deeper work.

3. Use small wins to stay motivated

Your brain needs to win. And it needs to win often. When you don’t feel excited about what you do, your mind shifts its focus. The book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work tells that tracking and recognizing efforts of small, daily achievements can enhance workers motivation and increase positive emotions. Any accomplishment, no matter how small, activates the reward circuitry of our brains. When you feel that what you do has values, you will not lose your motivation so easily.

Staying focus in a distracted world

The world is an extremely distracted place right now. In a given minute on Facebook, 236,000 statuses and 136,000 photos are posted.[7] The amount of distraction available to us is very large, and probably growing. Because of decreased attention spans, we focus only about six hours per week.[8] That’s less than at any other time in human history we’ve studied.

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If you’re getting more done in less time and focusing on the right priorities, you would be a competitive advantage for your career and personal development. It’s very hard to advance professionally if you’re seen as a drone worker — one that answers emails and updates spreadsheets. Those are cogs in the machine. While necessary, no one thinks of them as irreplaceable. By getting rid of distractions, increases the quality of your work, your own personal motivation, your focus, and your career aspects. You will move towards doing more meaningful works that are more strategic and essential to the company’s future growth.

If you see the benefits of making the transition away from task-driven, repetitive, shallow work to a more focused work in your career, I will show you how to transit from shallow work to deep work in my next article. Come on back for that.

Featured photo credit: Jeannie Phan via jeanniephan.com

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 24, 2020

17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

In the movie The Matrix, everyone was intrigued with the ability that Neo and his friends possessed to learn new skills in a matter of seconds. With the incredible rise in technology today, the rapid learning in the movie is becoming much more of a reality than you realize.

The current generation has access to more knowledge and information than any before it. Through the internet, we are able to access all sorts of knowledge to answer almost every conceivable question. To become smarter, it’s more about the ability to learn faster, rather than being a natural born genius.

Here are 17 ways to kickstart your Matrix-style learning experience in a short amount of time.

1. Deconstruct and Reverse Engineer

Break down the skill that you want to learn into little pieces and learn techniques to master an isolated portion. The small pieces will come together to make up the whole skill.

For example, when you’re learning to play the guitar, learn how to press down a chord pattern with your fingers first without even trying to strum the chord. Once you are able to change between a couple of chord patterns, then add the strumming.

2. Use the Pareto Principle

Use the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80 20 rule. Identify the 20% of the work that will give you 80% of the results. Find out more about the 80 20 rule here: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

Take learning a new language for example. It does not take long to realize that some words pop up over and over again as you’re learning. You can do a quick search for “most commonly used French words,” for example, and begin to learn them first before adding on the rest.

3. Make Stakes

Establish some sort of punishment for not learning the skill that you are seeking. There are sites available that allow you to make a donation toward a charity you absolutely hate if you do not meet your goals. Or you can place a bet with a friend to light that fire under you.

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However, keep in mind that several studies have shown that rewards tend to be more motivating than punishment[1].

4. Record Yourself

Seeing yourself on video is a great way to learn from your mistakes and identify areas that you need to improve. This is very effective for any musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers.

5. Join a Group

There are huge benefits to learning in a group. Not only are you able to learn from others but you’ll be encouraged to make progress together. Whether it’s a chess club, a mastermind group, or an online meet-up group, get connected with other like-minded individuals.

6. Time Travel

Visit the library. Although everything is moving more and more online, there are still such things called libraries.

Whether it’s a municipal library or your university library, you will be amazed at some of the books available there that are not accessible online. Specifically, look for the hidden treasures and wisdom contained in the really old books.

7. Be a Chameleon

When you want to learn new skills, imitate your biggest idol. Watch a video and learn from seeing someone else do it. Participate in mimicry and copy what you see.

Studies have shown that, apart from learning,[2]

“Mimicry is an effective tool not only to create ties and social relationships, but also for maintaining them.”

Visual learning is a great way to speed up the learning process. YouTube has thousands of videos on almost every topic available.

8. Focus

Follow one course until success! It’s easy to get distracted, to throw in the towel, or to become interested in the next great thing and ditch what you initially set out to do.

Ditch the whole idea of multitasking, as it has been shown to be detrimental and unproductive Simply focus on the one new skill at hand until you get it done.

9. Visualize

The mind has great difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. That is why athletes practice mentally seeing their success before attempting the real thing[3].

Visualize yourself achieving your new skill and each step that you need to make to see results. This is an important skill to help when you’re learning the basics or breaking a bad habit.

Take a look at this article to learn how to do so: How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results

10. Find a Mentor

Success leaves clues. The best short cut to become an expert is to find an expert and not have to make the mistakes that they have made.

Finding out what NOT to do from the expert will fast-track your learning when you want to learn new skills. It is a huge win to have them personally walk you through what needs to be done. Reach out and send an email to them.

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If you need help learning how to find a mentor, check out this article.

11. Sleep on It

Practice your new skill within four hours of going to sleep.

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, is a noted rapid learning expert. He says that any practice done within this time frame causes your brain to embed the learning more rapidly into its neural pathways. Your memory and motor-mechanics are ingrained at a quicker level.

12. Use the 20-Hour Rule

Along with that tip, Kaufman also suggests 20 as the magic number of hours to dedicate to learning the new skill.

His reasoning is that everyone will hit a wall early on in the rapid learning stage and that “pre-committing” to 20 hours is a sure-fire way to push through that wall and acquire your new skill.[4]

Check out his video to find out more:

13. Learn by Doing

It’s easy to get caught up in reading and gathering information on how to learn new skills and never actually get around to doing those skills. The best way to learn is to do.

Regardless of how unprepared you feel, make sure you are physically engaged continuously. Keep alternating between research and practice.

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14. Complete Short Sprints

Rather than to force yourself into enduring hours upon hours of dedication, work in short sprints of about 20-30 minutes, then get up and stretch or take a short walk. Your brain’s attention span works best with short breaks, so be sure to give it the little rest it needs.

One study found that, between two groups of students, the students who took two short breaks when studying actually performed better than those who didn’t take breaks[5].

15. Ditch the Distractions

Make sure the environment you are in is perfect for your rapid-learning progress. That means ditching any social media, and the temptation to check any email. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Before you sit down to learn new skills, make sure that potential distractions are far from sight.

16. Use Nootropics

Otherwise known as brain enhancers, these cognitive boosters are available in natural herbal forms and in supplements.

Many students will swear by the increased focus that nootropics will provide[6], particularly as they get set for some serious cramming. Natural herbal nootropics have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions to improve the mind and learning.

Find out more about brain supplements in this article.

17. Celebrate

For every single small win that you experience during the learning process, be sure to celebrate. Your brain will release endorphins and serotonin as you raise your hands in victory and pump your fits. Have a piece of chocolate and give yourself a pat on the back. This positive reinforcement will help you keep pushing forward as you learn new skills.

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The Bottom Line

Learning a new skill should be exciting and fun. Whether you use online courses, real world experience, YouTube videos, or free online resources, take time to learn in the long term. Keep picturing the joy of reaching the end goal and being a better version of yourself as continual motivation.

More Tips on How to Learn New Skills

Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

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