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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 November 18, 2019

        How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

        How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

        Everyone of my team members has a bucketload of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creativity tasks or problem solving tasks.

        Despite having loads of tasks to handle, our team is able to stay creative and work towards our goals consistently.

        How do we manage that?

        I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours over the long term. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize:

        The Scales Method – a productivity method I created several years ago.

        How to Prioritize with the Scales Method

          One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

          At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days.

          After she listened to my advice – and I introduced her to the Scales Method – she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

          • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles
          • She could publish all her articles on time
          • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!)

          Curious to find out how she did it? Read on for the step-by-step guide:

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          1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

          When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

          My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning – but keep it short. Ideally, 10 or 15 minutes. This should be adequate to think about your plan.

          Use this time to:

          • Look at the big picture.
          • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
          • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

          2. Align Your Tasks with Your Goal

          This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective.

          It works like this:

          Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

          By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.

            To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

            Low Cost + High Benefit

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            Do these tasks first because they’re the simple ones to complete, yet help you get closer to your goal.

            Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

            High Cost + High Benefit

            Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete. And then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

            Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new diary-free protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting – aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g., spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

            Low Cost + Low Benefit

            This combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kind of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

            These are probably necessary tasks (e.g., routine tasks like checking emails) but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

            High Cost + Low Benefit

            Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

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            For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there they can make this process instant and seamless.

            Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

              After listening to my advice, she broke down the High cost+ High benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

                And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only – thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

                Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks with Deadlines

                Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of achieving your goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be deadlines set by external parties such as managers and agencies.

                What to do in these cases?

                Well, I suggest that after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list with the deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

                For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

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                Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

                  Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to order them in lists of priority.

                  The Scales Method Is Different from Anything Else You’ve Tried

                  By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work, and most importantly – boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

                  And unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefits. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefits combinations.

                  Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be super-easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains, is that you kick off your next working day by following your new list.

                  Trust me, once you begin using the Scales Method – you’ll never want to go back to your old ways of working.

                  More to Boost Productivity

                  Featured photo credit: Vector Stock via vectorstock.com

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