Everyone has to deal with distraction be that home, in the office or in education. There is always something going on, sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes provenance and other times just completely out of our control. When it comes to understanding our distractions, we need to focus on how to control the controllables rather than fixing the world.
Consider the times when you are at your most productive, devoid of distractions and totally in the zone – those are good days and at the end of them you have that real sense of achievement and success. Sadly, they don’t happen every day and for some of us we wish they happened more often most of the time, rather than infrequently and irregularly. What are the things that distract us then? Are we really that amateur in our approach to success or is it normal to get caught up with other stuff going on?
There are so many areas where we get distracted and knowing what they are will help us to understand how to deal with them. Ignorance is no excuse! In no particular order:
• Email – when we used to rely on the postman to bring us the daily distraction life was so much easier – now the email can go off 24-7, when we are in a meeting, on the loo or going to bed. Emails just don’t stop and on top of that the vast majority of them are not relevant to us, are from people covering their backs or are just blatant spam and irrelevance. If I was to create a top five of distractions, email would certainly be in there.
• Coffee breaks – how long does it take to make a brew? Who else is there when you boil the kettle or switch on the machine? What would appear to be a simple 5-minute task rarely takes less than 20 mins from the time you get up from the keyboard or put down the pen to the time you get back to work afterwards and get back into the zone.
• Meetings – so often they start late, run late, have poor structure and aren’t entirely relevant to you. On a weekly basis or monthly basis how many hours do you haemorrhage in meetings that just don’t work for you? Time to be selfish and leave.
• Personal Technology – recently I played golf with a man that was wearing his wife’s step counter because she was in a league and needed some extra steps! These sorts of devices are very common in our lives nowadays and we can find they absorb hours of our time, setting them up and making them look pretty and then analysing and studying the irrelevant data that is created. Does your resting heartbeat between 9am and 10am have any bearing on your life, your success or your ability to complete a task? I think not! Unless there is a medical reason, this can only be creating more noise and distraction in your head, so why bother?
• Social Media – so much is written about the law of distraction and the greatest offender being social media, from seeing what someone had for breakfast through to the conspiracy theorist ideas on facial recognition so we can spy on everyone around the world. There are so many different versions out there used by different age groups, cultures, continents and demographics. The fact remains the same – constantly watching what everyone else is doing somewhere away from where you are at the moment is clearly distracting you from the task or goal at hand – so stop it! Nice to know rather than need to know.
• Instant Messaging – just like the emails and social media these things pop up and distract you, they break your train of thought and your focus on the job in hand. Why do people have audible notifications going on here? They are clearly happy to be distracted yet I personally turn them all on to silent immediately. At the end of just one day last week, in one WhatsApp group that I am involved with, there were in excess of 300 messages. Imagine what a noise that would have been with a ping going off every few seconds for most of the day. How annoying for you and for everyone around you. NO, just NO!
• Colleagues – can you help me with ……? Do you know how…..? I’ve got a problem, what should I do…..? Did you watch the game at the weekend? Colleagues are great, sociable and fun but they can also be the bane of our lives when they are the chatterbox, the needy person or the FAFFer who just want to distract you rather than getting on with their own work!
• Browsing – just checking something out, looking up the answer on Google or trawling through social media sites looking for inside information on a prospect and then going off on a tangent – checking out what other friends are up to or seeing who else they know that you know and how they have changed (positively or negatively). Limit your browsing if it’s an issue for you.
• Phone calls – this is an area I believe has gone down in volume and part of that has been down to the proliferation of other communication methods within the social media family. There is also the generational thing where many avoid picking up the phone and directly speaking with someone and prefer to send a message or a text. There is always, sadly, going to be the interruptions and nuisance call, GDPR may have helped reduce some of those persistent offenders, but it won’t stop then all.
• Noise and Environment – from having an office directly next door to a school playground, a cold office because the heating is poor or chairs and desks that were manufactured when your grandparents were still teenagers. Not all environmental challenges and distractions are outside of our control, sometimes having the ability to open or close a window can improve your performance and reduce the anxiety caused by the environmental cue.
• Expectations – when people expect so much of you and it manifests as additional pressure on you, which in turn leads you to look for other excuses, get outs or even simple forms of self sabotage so you can fail on your terms and not theirs. This is all part of distraction and reducing your performance. Psychologists refer to people having a self-serving bias, stating that failures are due to external factors and successes are all down to you – how can both be right?
• Multi-tasking – at best we can work individually on several things at any one time but actually doing more than one thing at any one time just doesn’t happen. Our focus switches between one thing and another, driving a car and talking on the phone, clearly, we are doing 2 things at once here, but are only truly focussing on one thing.
• Lists – just add that to the list and then I won’t forget it and the world will continue to rotate because it’s on the list. All well and good until we then rearrange a list, tick off the things we like, create a not to do list, to avoid list. Over-working a list is just distracting you from acting upon the actions contained within the list. Note it and move on.
• Hunger & Thirst – just when you think you are in the zone your stomach starts rumbling, someone offers you a coffee and conversation follows. We all know approximately when we need to eat and drink, take control by having drinks and snacks to hand and don’t sabotage your performance by creating the environment where this will go wrong for you. There is only so much time in the day, be proactive about when you are in the zone and when you are not.
Briefly, it would be remiss not to mention one of the greatest distraction environments that we uncover everyday while we are in control of 1000kg of steel. Mess up when moving at 30, 60 or 80mph and you are in control of a lethal weapon that can kill. Within the car there are so many distractions going on all of the time that rarely help our focus in an environment that needs to be better respected – phone – satnav – food – back seat passengers – texts – smoking – smart watch – social media – web – music – this list can go on. And we wonder why so many accidents take place? Stay in the zone and on focus.
In the end it all comes down to YOU – the greatest distraction in your life is you, no one else does it to you, we do it to ourselves and then more often than not fail to take responsibility for the fact we have distracted ourselves from the task in hand and prevented seeing it through to completion. The answer lies with you.