Dealing with Daily Distractions
Script: 5 minutes of your life.
You are sitting at your desk trying to concentrate on your project.
“I really need to get it done by the end of the day… Let’s see… What are the numbers for the last month?… Hold on. Is that a new email? It might be from Terry.”
You open the email box…
“No that’s just spam. Why would I want to buy a Rolex watch?! … Where was I? Numbers for the last month… God, who is writing to me on Facebook? I’ll just say I’m busy… Finally!… Numbers for the last month should be right here… Great!”
Janice from her desk: “Oh my God! Look at that! Hold on! I’ll send it to you!”
You accepting an image file… waiting for it to download… opening it. It is a picture of a KITTEN!
You to Janice, “It’s cute!” while thinking, “Why in the world would she send me a picture of a cat?! I really don’t have time for this! Where was I? Right… Numbers for the past month…”
Distractions can be very annoying, especially when you are trying to get some work done. They are like thousands of midges swarming around you and following you everywhere you go, making it impossible for you to focus on important tasks.
Just by eliminating those daily distractions alone you will instantly improve your focus, double your productivity and avoid unnecessary stress.
Here is how to do it:
1. Block out the noise. Our brain actually starts to deal with distractions the day we are born. A large portion of the incoming information is blocked to prevent us from feeling overwhelmed. The two main senses that we rely on the most are vision and hearing.
The results of much psychological research show us that we mainly get distracted by visual stimuli as well as unwanted acoustic information. The solution to the distraction problem is genial, because it is so simple – get ear plugs or put on a pair of headphones without listening to any music. When you block one of the senses, the other senses become heightened. But it also helps to improve your focus.
2. Avoid visual stimulation. It has been shown that we only block out about 20% of what comes in through our eyes. This is why we need to keep all visual distractions to a minimum. Most of us do not even notice that our eyes are repeatedly turning to email pop-ups, flashing banners, clutter around our desk, tens of icons on our desktop or the person sitting in front of us.
Therefore, turn off your IM, Twitter, Facebook, email notifications. Remove all the clutter from your desk and your desktop. If you work in an open-plan office, find a spot where you will not be directly facing someone. At home just close the door (lock it if you can) and inform your family members that you will be busy working for about an hour.
3. Look busy and be strong. Frequently we feel that it is not polite to ignore another person or ask them not to disturb you. This is counter-productive, because when you try to “be nice” and respond to people, who are disturbing you, your irritation and anxiety will show in your tone of voice and your body language. You actually give people the impression that you do not enjoy talking to them or that they annoy you.
Do not be shy, let people know from the start that you are busy and you need time to concentrate. In general, other people are very respectful of another person’s time and do not want to disturb someone who they know is busy working. Therefore, look busy and ignore all distractions. If your colleague starts to talk to you, pretend you do not hear them and just bob your head in response.
4. Eliminate “snooze” effect. Often when we know that we have a lot to do, we feel tempted to work for hours and ignore the signals that our body sends us, like “I’m hungry”, “I’m tired” or “I need to go to the bathroom”. If you are hungry, your thoughts will continue to come back to the half chicken salad sandwich that has been lying in your fridge since this morning. Trying to suppress our body’s signals or your curiosity is similar to hitting “snooze” on your alarm clock. It will continue to ring again every few minutes, distracting you over and over again.
If you are hungry, your back hurts, or you are wondering how your spouse’s job interview went – just get up and eat that sandwich, make yourself a cup of coffee, call your spouse and then satisfied get back to your project.
5. Calm your mind. We often blame others for distracting us, but in reality we can be our own biggest distraction. Do you know those tiresome thoughts that buzz in your head when you are trying to concentrate? “I forgot to call my mom”, “I must remember to buy salt, otherwise I won’t be able to make pasta tonight”, “I wonder what John is doing this weekend”. Our mind is like a wild monkey randomly jumping from one thought to another, making it impossible to stay focused on the task at hand.
Meditation is a great way to calm your thoughts and improve your concentration. Whenever you feel overwhelmed close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, relax your body and concentrate for a few minutes on your breathing. Feel the sensation of air enter you nostrils, feel your lungs widen, your diaphragm lowering. Imagine how with every breath you take you breathe in relaxation and breathe out tension and anxiety.
Let your thoughts flow naturally. If you feel that your mind is starting to wander, gently bring your attention back to the breathing pattern. It takes a little practice, but it is a great way to restore your energy, improve concentration and boost your productivity.