I feel that one of the biggest challenges that we’re facing today is dealing with distractions. Every day, we are exposed to a plethora of information, most of which about things we don’t care about, some of which we do care about, but are not interested in learning about for the time being. Productivity and ability to focus are the victims of this recent phenomenon.
I say recent, because only a couple of decades ago, people weren’t exposed to a fraction of the amount of information we are. We almost create distractions every minute by opening new tabs, accessing several pages at once, until suddenly, we let ourselves become overwhelmed. Work becomes increasingly more challenging because you’ve created an entirely new world of tasks every time you click on a link, run a program, or open a new tab.
I find that this has been very difficult for me, personally, to overcome. There are several thoughts going on in my head simultaneously and my thoughts become blurred, I become less effective, and eventually fail at sticking to the script. Of course, the barrage of information and options are not the only things that distract you. It’s often that people you know may do that too. And the worst thing about being distracted by people is that you never expect it.
When you create several pages of information and tasks, the process is gradual, and while you do slowly start to realize that you’re being distracted from your main objective, the realization comes more pleasantly. It’s synonymous to ripping off a bandage slowly. When people distract you on the other hand, you’re caught off guard. You were doing something and suddenly you’re denied from proceeding with it.
Interestingly, it almost never matters if you’re being effective or ineffective, these distractions tend to bother you just the same. There are, of course, other things that can distract you from the task at hand. Appointments, running toilets, thunder, sickness, foul odors, animals, construction work, honking, games and many more. But I think most centrally, people you know and the internet make up the bulk of that distraction time, at least for me.
If you aren’t one of the many gifted people of the world who are able to supernaturally multitask 24 things at once, then perhaps reading my suggestions could help.
I’ve identified a couple of simple ways of dealing with them that have helped me tremendously.
Dealing with people:
I’ve always found it interesting how if you tell someone that you have a meeting, or class, or event, they’ll understand that they shouldn’t contact you because perhaps interrupting you in these cases would render them no benefit since you are unlikely to be able to respond.
I figured, that if that can be true of those particular situations, then why can’t it be true for a part of your leisure time that you’re spending on working, studying, or reading? I can recall several instances where doing something in my leisure time is profoundly more important to me than a lecture, meeting, or event. The idea that I should restrict distractions to things I care less about because they’re more formal in a social context never made too much sense to me.
My solution then is that I would schedule a particular time of day, every day, where I’m automatically unavailable, as if I have a meeting. Say, 1 hour. And I let people who contact me the most to know about it. For one hour a day, your phone goes on airplane mode, and the added benefit is that you know you need to make this hour count. Otherwise, the entire exercise is futile.
I like this idea because the restricted time frame, and the fact that you’re actively deterring interruption creates, in a sense – a motivating factor that forces you to focus more, and at the same time getting rid of those irritating distractions.
Dealing with information:
As for information, my solution was also simple. I used to be in the habit of opening several tabs at once, like the friend I mentioned earlier on, not to that extent of course, otherwise, I wouldn’t have felt surprised. What I do find to be extremely helpful is to structure my internet surfing time with a somewhat of a loose schedule. I say loose, because some element of randomness is necessary. Things will occur to me in the next ten minutes that haven’t yet, and creating a schedule too precise could be redundant. But a loose schedule would enable you to divide your time into different categories, tackling one or two at a time instead of 10 or 15. Thus allowing you to tackle each task effectively within the limits of your brain’s working memory.
I personally hate distractions as you might have already figured out by now, and if someone has some useful or interesting suggestions on how to get rid of them, I’d love to hear them.