The place to help you work, the tools to make you productive and communicate are seemingly doing the opposite. Law of diminishing returns? Social media, shopping, videos, games, apps and websites are what experts call ‘media snacking’. They are built to grab, retain, and addict draining your most precious resource: attention. Office distractions eat up an average of 2.1 hours a day. To this, add tight deadlines, long meetings that go nowhere; spam, email threads you were dragged into (blame it on CC) and the list goes on.
In between all this, we check our smartphones 100-120 times a day instinctively, or sometimes subconsciously.
In a survey, researchers found that US workers waste about 25 per cent of their time dealing with “an incessant stream of data,” losing their employers billions of dollars each year. Technology use can impair attention, memory, dampen creative thinking, increase stress levels, reduce sleep quality and lead to cognitive errors like forgetting meetings and walking into people. Clearly, we are living in an ‘attention deficit’ economy.
“It’s likely as you are reading this, a stray call, notification glowing on your screen, a reminder, WhatsApp message or an email just arrived in your inbox all possibly around the same time and distracting you.”
Knowledge workers or skilled jobs require focus and discipline. it’s even more demanding in finance, where sensitive data handling requires focus and consistent breaks, as much as consistent attention. It’s worse with the current workplace. Millennial talent is always connected and mobile-driven. They get distracted easily and result in possibly lower quality of output.
Here are 10 tips to declutter those distractions and cultivate the right atmosphere:
- Most users check their emails 15-20 times a day. Disable auto receiving emails. Stick to a ‘3 point check’: when you start work, at noon and before you pack up for the day. If it’s urgent, you are likely to get a call or you can respond after few hours. Install spam filter, unsubscribe newsletters (www.unroll.me) that you don’t read but keep filing away.
- Be Anti-Social
- If your company allows it, stick to using it during lunch break or after hours. Your friends, funny forwards can wait. Disable all notifications and enable airplane mode. It’s hard, but not impossible. The world and your social connections can surely get by without you briefly.
- Mini Meetings
- Do it over a video conference call, define the time limit, share the agenda upfront. Do it over a lunch meeting or with all the attendees standing up. It’s proven when meetings are held standing up, they are faster and more efficient.
- Bust the browser
- On your phone and computer, your browser or apps are the gateway to the world. Why not clam down and manage that gateway? Install Freedom (https://freedom.to/Freedom) a smart app and website blocker to reclaim focus. It disciplines you, tracks time across all your devices, at home and work so you keep tab. You can start sessions on-the-fly, or schedule your ‘Freedom time’ in advance. Plan out sessions that recur daily or weekly. Freedom users reportedly gain an average of 2.5 hours of productive time each day.
5.Eat the frog
- An African proverb says, ‘Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.’ It means by tackling the most important, difficult task in the morning, your day will get better as the other tasks are [relatively] easier. Start your day with a manageable to-do list. Having one that’s too long can lead to procrastination, as you wonder which task to tackle next? Commit to doing the two most important tasks on the list, that you’ve been dreading, and put the rest on hold until tomorrow.
6. Get a tomato
- Not a real one. Try the effective Pomodoro Technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals of 25 minutes each, separated by short breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros, the anglicized plural of the Italian word Pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer its creator used as a student to focus. Its goal is to reduce the impact of internal and external interruptions on focus and flow. By breaking up tasks into little chunks you manage better. Its all about pacing yourself.
7. Sound of Silence
- Get 30+ decibel earplugs available in pharmacies or wear noise-cancelling headphones, or play “white noise”. Doing so, you blank out or taper down any sounds that would grab your attention – including loud colleagues on the phone, playing ear-bleeding music or interrupting you. If you can, set yourself up in an empty meeting room to regain focus.
8. Farm it out
- Tedious tasks, personal chores can distract. Personal issues do creep into work and blur the line. Need to schedule an appointment, pick up groceries, buy a gift, get the house cleaned? Unless you are the CEO, it’s unlikely you have a PA (personal assistant), secretary or Man Friday. You still can. Outsource the chores to task providers such as HelpBit, Service, Mr.Usta, Fetchr and others. If its not confidential, get data entry, dictate notes, plan the holiday booking faster, while you work, by outsourcing. There are over 300+ virtual assistant companies (real people, not bots) available for any task that can be done online or over phone and lets you focus on more important things.
9. Tame them
- Once you start work, put your phone in airplane mode or do not disturb. Pre-program quick text replies or setup a voicemail, such as “Sorry, busy at work. Will return your call at X time”. Your friends, family or co-workers can understand as they suffer from similar distractions. Use Meet Franz that brings together WhatsApp, chat, Skype and other services so you don’t need to juggle ten apps. In your lunch break or after hours catch up.
- Healthy body equals a healthy mind that let you focus, gives more energy and mental stamina. It may help to invest in stand-up desks or fitness trackers. Do a quick at-the-desk workout, meditate for 5 minutes or walk around the block – this lets out a little steam valve and helps you focus.
Power Tip: Turn your distractions into dividends. Consistent attention must be balanced with consistent breaks. Give yourself a set amount of time to work, and reward yourself with a break in between each scheduled cycle that you can focus on, briefly, during your scheduled breaks.
When you finish the task, or during your break or after a productive day treat yourself to watching those funny videos; calling up the friend trying to reach you; chat, personal browsing, or shopping as a reward.