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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- 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.
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.
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