I’ve been thinking a lot about the art of distraction lately and how we as individuals handle it. Take my son, for instance. All it takes is a loud noise, and he’s up with his nose pressed against the window to see where it came from. Or, the many “projects” that get started at my house but rarely get finished. Or, the real kicker for me: the smartphone at the dinner table—a HUGE distraction from being present in the dinner conversation.
Distraction in our world today has a tremendous impact on our productivity. In fact, a study done on employee productivity found that “many employees are interrupted at least every 15 minutes, and the majority waste at least an hour a day dealing with all types of distractions. And when each of those distractions happens, it can take 20 minutes to regain focus and get back to the work at hand. In an organization with 1,000 employees, wasted time comes with a bill of over $10 million every year in lost productivity.”
The very technology that is supposed to make us more productive is in fact having the opposite effect. We’re in a constant state of digital overload and the need to multitask is actually hindering our efficiency. Our brains can only handle so much.
So what to do? Below are three tips for minimizing distraction and becoming more productive.
Prioritize Your To-Do List
I attended a seminar years ago where I learned that I gauge my feelings about the day by how much I accomplished. What can I say? I’m a tad compulsive. However, I realized that my to-do lists were causing a lot of stress because it was impossible to complete an entire list in a day! So, now I look at my list differently. I prioritize the items by their importance and urgency. Some tasks may be urgent, but not all that important. Many times I can move these tasks down on the list. And the important and urgent tasks, I tend to first.
I admit, this one is hard. There are so many things demanding my attention, and it can be daunting. Sometimes the only way I can get anything done is to literally turn the distractions off. This means doing some radical things like sending my phone calls to voicemail, putting a “Do not disturb” status on IM, and shutting Google down. I’m still working on how to be OK with delayed responses so I can focus on the task at hand, but it’s worth it.
I cannot stand the feeling of being rushed. I would rather schedule less than feel overwhelmed and stressed trying to accomplish an unrealistic number of tasks in a day. Plenty of research exists on the impact stress has on our health. It is conclusive that it is much better to accomplish less than to feel frustrated.
These are only a few suggestions to manage distraction. What are some ways you stay focused?