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You’re Familiar With These Everyday Distractions But Do You Know How To Deal With Them?

You’re Familiar With These Everyday Distractions But Do You Know How To Deal With Them?
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Do you think that 24 hours in a day is not enough? Are you always ‘running around’ trying to get things done? Is your to-do list never empty? More importantly, are you missing out on what you love to do and the things that really matter? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it’s time to take a step back and ponder some of the seemingly innocuous distractions creeping into your everyday life.

We live in a world of information overload, with digitization at the crux of the problem. The plethora of gadgets and social tools that were meant to increase productivity, are now the biggest enemy of our focus. We are willingly allowing them to invade our concentration, reduce our efficiency and induce stress. Let’s look at four everyday distractions that challenge us frequently and investigate how we can cope with them.

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Email

Email is no doubt a revolution in the field of communication. However, as powerful a tool as it is, we can end up spending hours just reading and responding to emails. In today’s era, people expect to receive an instantaneous reply to their email. Some of us are in the habit of constantly refreshing our inbox to see if there is a new message coming our way. But really, how often is something life threatening and urgent waiting to be read in our mailbox? Here are some tips to deal with the distraction of email:

  • Schedule certain times in the day to be dedicated to email. Try 15-minute slots, three times a day to begin with and then alter accordingly.
  • Turn off push notifications and pop-ups to indicate the arrival of new emails.
  • Manage other people’s expectations in a way that you will responsibly answer, but not immediately.
  • Invest time in creating rules and filters, which will help in focusing on the relevant items first.
  • Avoid providing your email address to promotional websites, shopping sites and the likes. Unsubscribe from emails that you usually don’t read.

Social Media

You are in the middle of completing a task at work. Your phone buzzes and you see a Facebook invite from your friend for her 30th birthday. What should I wear to her party? Let’s see the guest list. Oh, Juliette is invited too? You click on Juliette’s profile and see that she just returned from her Turkey vacation. You have been dying to go to Turkey, so you decide to further explore her Instagram pictures. Just at that moment, you realize you have a new follower on Twitter. Oh, it’s your school friend, whom you haven’t seen in ages. Let’s see what he has been up to. You Google him and his LinkedIn profile comes up. Wow, he works for NASA! You quickly add him on LinkedIn and browse his experience.

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A relentless flood of social platforms can steer you away from high-value work. Social media needs a desperate role reversal – instead of being swept away by it, we should control it and use it to our advantage.

  • Prioritize and be selective about which platforms you want to be part of. Exercise the power of choice and try not be influenced by peer pressure.
  • Think about what you ultimately want to achieve with each of these social sites. Define a purpose and acknowledge it.
  • Dedicate a block of time during your day, preferably during your down time, to cater to these interests.

Other People

The people around us can prove to be a huge disruption in the form of office chit-chats, phone calls, background noise, or demanding yet unnecessary meetings. Research shows that regaining concentration after an interruption can take quite a few minutes. How do we balance being responsive yet maintain focus on the task at hand?

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  • While you don’t want to work in absolute isolation, it’s beneficial to be vocal and clear about your priorities. Communicate politely that you are busy and will respond when you have time.
  • Block out unwanted acoustics by using headphones or earplugs. It also signals that you are busy and making an effort to complete your work.
  • Meetings can often be counter-productive. Say no to those that provide little value.

Our Thoughts

We tend to blame external factors for disrupting our work, but what about random thoughts buzzing around in our head when we are trying to concentrate? Oops, I forgot to buy a gift for Mom. What will the weather be like in Toronto? What will I make for dinner tonight? Our mind can seesaw and wander from one thought to another, even in the absence of outside stimulus, but which tools are the most useful to overcome this?

  • Meditation is your best friend when it comes to helping train your mind to be more attentive. It will require self-discipline, persistence and patience, but the results are magnificent.
  • De-clutter, clean up your desk or workspace and adopt minimalism. It is easier to remain on a single track of fluid thoughts when your surroundings are in order.
  • When your mind is multitasking too much, write down your thoughts on a piece of paper. It’s a great way to increase awareness and disentangle the web of feelings.

 

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Studies show that chronic multitasking can diminish our capacity to function effectively. So think about your current lifestyle, workload and priorities. Are we harming ourselves more by our efforts to squeeze additional activities into our already busy lives?

Featured photo credit: caffeinating, calculating, computerating via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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