Are Distractions Sabotaging Your Success?
Do you ever feel that your day is filled with distractions? Instead of being able to finish a project, your environment constantly intrudes on your attention? Phone calls, demands on your time by coworkers, sudden tasks thrust on you by managers or crises all erode your efficiency and impact productivity.
Many of your interruptions are self-inflicted. Instead of focusing on what's important, you allow your attention to be abducted by anything new. It's like the dog in the movie that gets diverted by any movement, thinking it's a squirrel. The brain loves anything that's novel or different. It lights up the reward circuit of your brain. That's why it feels so satisfying to check your email dozens of times a day. But just because it feels good doesn't mean it helps you accomplish anything.
The more you allow yourself to be sidetracked, the more you train yourself to seek out and succumb to distractions. It becomes a self-defeating cycle. Multitasking falls into this category. Although multitasking feels like you're getting a lot done, the more you do it, the less effective you become.
How Distractions Cost You
Distractions are more than annoyances. Every time you're interrupted, it takes time to get refocused. Researchers estimate it takes between fifteen and twenty-five minutes to get back on track afterwards. How much time are you wasting each day, just trying to get refocused? And once you return to your task, you can't focus as well.
Also, your output, productivity and efficiency suffer and you commit more errors. Another study established that four hours of distracted time was equivalent to one hour of focused work. Think of what you could accomplish if you focused on one task or project at a time for just two hours a day. That would be equivalent to a full day of work.
What You Can Do
You have control over many of the distractions you encounter. When you take charge of what you can, you'll maximize your productivity. Here are a few tips to help you stay focused.
1. Focus on your task. Do this by turning off your email notifications, closing your door and turning off your phone. Better yet, schedule checking your email and only do it three times a day. Even better, leave your cell phone in another room. Studies show that even having it in your room diverts your attention.
2. Stop multitasking. Contrary to popular thought, it does not make you more efficient. The opposite is true. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you jump from one task to another, your brain must switch gears. That takes up precious time and energy, and shortens your attention span. It also makes your brain run slower and reduces your intelligence. To increase your effectiveness, address one task at a time for at least 20 minutes before you go onto something else.
3. Train yourself to focus. Focusing your attention is a skill that you can learn and develop. Once you've broken the multitasking habit and been able to focus on one task for 20 minutes, take it to the next step. Extend the period you focus on any task by 5-minute increments over a period of weeks. Aim for at least 55 uninterrupted minutes. Another way to train your focus and concentration is to practice meditation. It builds areas of the brain associated with attention.
4. Focus on the present. Pay attention to what you're doing now. Don't allow your thoughts to drift to the past or what you're going to be doing in the future. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the task at hand. This type of mindfulness helps problem solving and improves your memory.
Distractions will never go away. But when you stop letting distractions rule you and take control over your attention, your mood will improve. Your sense of calm, clarity, satisfaction and productivity will soar. Because you'll be spending time on the tasks and projects that bring you results, you'll be more successful.