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The Price of Distraction Is Far Beyond Your Imagination

The Price of Distraction Is Far Beyond Your Imagination

People get sidetracked by irrelevant websites and unproductive tasks occasionally. Have you ever stopped to wonder exactly how much these distractions cost us? The amount of time and money we fritter away will blow your mind.

According to McKinsey, high-skilled workers spend a staggering 28% of their working hours reading and replying to e-mail messages.[1] If we learned to manage our communication technology in a more efficient manner, we could give the economy a $900 million to $1.3 trillion boost per year.

When you find yourself sitting in the office feeling bored or overwhelmed, it’s easy to automatically check your social media. But it comes at a high price. Social media costs the U.S. economy $650 billion every year.[2]

Take a moment and let those figures sink in. We are a distracted nation, and we’re paying for it – big time.

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The rise of connectivity

    How did we end up in this situation? The 21st century is characterised by connectivity. Over the past couple of decades, it’s become increasingly difficult to disconnect from sources of information. We can access the internet almost anywhere, we can make cheap phone calls to friends around the globe, and our Facebook feeds are constantly refreshing themselves.

    Our addiction becomes especially apparent when we lose our phones or our internet connection drops out. For example, have you ever mislaid your phone for a few hours and become frantic at the thought of missing out on social media notifications and updates? Or perhaps you’ve caught yourself longing for the days where your boss couldn’t just send you a WhatsApp message in the evenings to ask you to do overtime or work faster on a project?

    What’s beyond the time loss

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      Originally, smartphones and other portable devices were designed to maximize convenience, allow us to work on the move, and enhance our productivity. Unfortunately, they have turned into a distraction that often interrupts our daily lives.

      For example, you might be working on an important presentation, only to be distracted by several e-mail notifications. You then have a choice – do you stop and answer these messages, or do you carry on with your presentation and hope that the sender doesn’t expect an immediate response? Either way, the notification has interrupted your flow and thrown you off course.

      Every time your attention is diverted from your task, you lose time. It takes effort to get back on track, and repeated interruptions can demotivate you. It can feel as though everyone wants a piece of your time, and that you will never get around to finishing anything. If you are a typical American worker, you’ll be distracted every 11 minutes, and it will take you 25 minutes to actually settle down again to your task. The more complicated your project, the longer it takes to regain your focus, because your brain has to put in considerable effort when switching between complex objectives.[3]

      Research carried out at Carnegie Mellon University shows that human beings simply aren’t equipped to “toggle” between work tasks and frivolous distractions such as Facebook. If you try to do two tasks at the same time, your performance on each will suffer.

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      The researchers carried out a study in which people were asked to read a short passage, and then answer questions that tested their understanding of what they had read. Those who were interrupted during the task performed just 80% as well as the participants who were allowed to do the test in peace.[4] In short, you shouldn’t be surprised if social media kills your productivity.

      Keep your focus where it belongs

      So what can you do? First, you can decide to put your phone and other devices away, or at least set them to silent, when focusing on an important project. Deal with distractions before they happen. If you don’t receive notifications, you won’t be distracted. Tell your colleagues that you need to focus on a task, and that they will have to phone you or come to your office if there’s an emergency.

      There’s also a useful technique you can use that will quickly get you back on track:

      The 20 Second Rule

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        Positive psychologist Shawn Achor believes that 20 seconds can make all the difference when it comes to behavior change. Specifically, making tasks slightly easier or more accessible will encourage you to do them, whereas making a behavior slightly harder will decrease the likelihood that you will give in to your urges. If something – such as checking your social media – takes you 20 seconds longer to do, you’re less likely to do it.

        What does this mean for those of us struggling to manage distractions? Basically, you need to make it slightly more difficult to give into temptation – to check your e-mail, to respond to a notification, and so forth. For example, move your phone so that it takes you 20 seconds longer to reach it, or disable a messaging app so that it takes you 20 seconds longer to log in and enable it again. This approach means you do not have to rely on willpower. Instead, you will have set up a reliable system that facilitates good habits.[5]

        Regain your control over distractions

        Remember, most notifications aren’t going to be urgent, and that social media isn’t going to help you get any work done. Advances in technology may mean that it’s harder than ever before to focus on a project, but that doesn’t mean you can’t become more productive. It just requires commitment, practice, and a determination to manage your messages – don’t let them manage you! Remember, building a 20-second temporal gap between yourself and a source of distraction is all you need to do to regain control.

        Reference

        More by this author

        Leon Ho

        Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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        Last Updated on July 10, 2020

        The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

        The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

        Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

        Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

        The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

        Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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        Program Your Own Algorithms

        Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

        Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

        By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

        How to Form a Ritual

        I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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        Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

        1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
        2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
        3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
        4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

        Ways to Use a Ritual

        Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

        1. Waking Up

        Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

        2. Web Usage

        How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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        3. Reading

        How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

        4. Friendliness

        Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

        5. Working

        One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

        6. Going to the gym

        If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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        7. Exercise

        Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

        8. Sleeping

        Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

        8. Weekly Reviews

        The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

        Final Thoughts

        We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

        More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

         

        Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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