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12 Ways to Prevent Distraction When Trying to Get Things Done

12 Ways to Prevent Distraction When Trying to Get Things Done

Productivity can hold you back and hold your company back, as many reports now find.

productive-timetable

    Productivity is getting more and more attention as the realisation that what you get done, and not how many hours you spend at the office, is what counts. Productivity will affect that promotion you want, getting a great review, or building the character people see.

    The good thing about productivity measures being taken by companies is that many have moved from the rigid 9 to 5, 40-hours-a-week drudgery to understanding that people often can’t force all aspects of their life into such a model. In the end, some part of their life will suffer and that in turn will affect their productivity.

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    For most knowledge workers today, i.e., workers whose currency is knowledge and not physical labour, working flexibly is possible. A laptop, an internet connection and a phone can achieve a lot in a day. But whether you are working from home or working at the office, there are distractions that need to be recognised and individuals need to know how to counteract them before suddenly realising that an hour has been lost that can never be gotten back.

    We often slip into allowing distractions to control our lives. You can regain control.

    What are the top distractions from work and how can you counteract them?

    1. People

    Chatty co-worker/loud headphones

    Most people are nice. Don’t be afraid to approach co-workers and let them know (kindly) that they are distracting you from your tasks. Suggest that they take their conversations to the cafeteria, to a quiet corner, or to lower their voice if that is sufficient for you. Ask them to take the headphone sound down a decibel or two. Make it clear that you are not trying to be a pest. You just need quiet time to get your stuff done.

    Constant questions

    If it’s a newbie, cut them some slack. However, if it persists then some steps need to be taken to limit the amount of distraction constant questioning causes. Ask your colleague to be sure that the question needs to be answered “right now” (i.e. is it inhibiting them from their work or is it merely “good to know” or “can be done later”). Authority to approve tasks can be delegated to others. You can designate times of the day when you answer questions over chat or in a brief meeting.

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    Loud phone voice

    Thankfully, more and more mobile phones are being used rather than fixed lines. This means whoever is causing the distraction has the power to move out of earshot if they can’t self-regulate their vocal chords. Similar to the first point, be friendly about it and ask your colleague/friend/whoever to take the call in another room. It’s quite possible that they didn’t even realise they were shouting!

    Family

    Working from home can be awesome and difficult, but everything can get done with good planning. At the beginning of the day have a list of what needs to get done, at what time it needs to be done, the estimated length of the activity, and how much that leaves you for your work. You can orient your family to know when you need to be left alone and when you are available. A good recommendation is to break your work into 90 minute stints. This is time enough to get focused and also give your brain regular breaks to refresh and process information.

    2) Things

    Cluttered desk/computer/inbox

    A cluttered desk stresses us out more, whether we like to admit it or not. Have the self-discipline to keep on top of it and it will never get out of control. Spend a day (or whatever time necessary) getting everything in order and at the end of each day make sure your items are filed, correctly piled or otherwise organized into something that makes sense to you. If you find yourself saying “it’s here somewhere” then your system is not working. Delete/dump stuff that you really don’t need, or at least transfer it to cloud storage/hard disk so it’s out of your way and out of your mind. Label or categorise items immediately. Don’t waste precious time being disorganized!

    Internet

    Self-discipline is crucial here. But if self-discipline doesn’t work, add-ons can be installed that block you from accessing chosen sites at particular hours of the day.

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    IM and SMS messages

    Make use of the “invisible” or “busy” button. Decide when you are going to be live and for how long, and send colleagues your schedule. It works similar to office hours. It depends on the job, of course – IM can be essential for some tasks, especially long-distance teamwork. Just be smart about it. In return, don’t spam your own workmates with irrelevant messages. Strike a balance, remembering that whilst you do want a good rapport with your colleagues, your goal is to GET THINGS DONE!

    Your chair

    Ah, the chair. Too comfy and you get relaxed and drift off. Too rigid and you get a sore back. If a major portion of your day is spent in a chair, invest in the best one possible for lumbar support. Similarly, if you spend a lot of time in the car or on an airplane, find products that can increase the health of your body rather than deplete it. Your company may even chip in on it for you. Health is one of our greatest assets, never take it for granted.

    3) Sights

    Overly stimulating/dull workspace

    There is nothing that puts me off working more than a grey cubicle. Worse: rows of grey cubicles. Office design has taken a turn for the fun and bright in recent years, with gaming corners and even massage therapists making regular appearances. You don’t have control of the whole office design, but if you work from home or you have a little space of your own then build it to be a place that makes you want to get things done. Surround yourself with things that motivate you. Is it a photo of someone whom you want to make proud? Is it a personal hero that you want to emulate? Is it a quote that nails exactly what you need to hear when you find yourself drifting off? What about the colour of your immediate surroundings? Can you control it? I personally can’t stand white walls. They remind me of hospitals, school and waiting rooms. Make sure that your work area exudes positive energy for you, and try not to clutter it with toys and gimmicks that send you off on nostalgic daydreams. Or take some advice on what not to have on your desk from this post.

    The view

    My office has an incredible view. High enough to see over the city, beside the sea and overlooking the train and metro stations. As I spend quite a bit of time at my job writing, I find the view inspirational. It can also cause me to drift off, as you can imagine! So my method is simply to sit with my back to the window during my focus hours, and let myself soak the sights in during lunch if I wish to. Alternatively, I put myself in a back office where there is no view and I don’t have to force myself to look in only one direction. Being at street-level can cause even more distractions. The noise of traffic, the movement of people, the sound of emergency vehicles… investing in a good set of blinds can help. As for the noise – perhaps sound-eliminating headphones are required in this case!

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    4) Environment

    Air conditioning/heating

    Ideally you know the temperature you’re comfortable at and can control it. Keep the air fresh enough so as to keep you alert but not so fresh that it makes you ill. I keep a woolly sweater at my desk as well in case my colleagues need more air than I. Finding your optimal temperature zone requires trying and testing, but it should generally be 22 – 25 Celsius (72 – 77 Fahrenheit).

    productivity vs temperature

      Lighting

      With our eyes already strained from looking at screens all day, it is important to also control the lighting. Incorrect lighting can result in headaches, tiredness and sore eyes – all leading to irritability and getting less done. Lighting should not glare, flicker, be uneven or cause you to lean in close in order to read something.

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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