5 Steps to Stay Avoid Distraction and Increase Productivity
Working and living entirely at home has made it easier than ever to get distracted. Posts on Facebook or online shopping, for example, can lead you off course for hours. You can get your focus back by following just a few simple practices.
Distraction is Growing
The problem of distraction is indeed growing. Even after months of learning to work from home, the combination of family members at home and a plethora of apps or digital devices makes it easy to get distracted. Facebook. YouTube. WhatsApp. Instagram. Google. And more. Indeed, the average person in Singapore spends more than 12 hours a day on digital media, according to market research firm Hootsuite.
Those distractions hurt personal productivity, and companies. A study led by University of California Irvine professor Gloria Mark, for instance, found that participants who work in tech could only work on a project for 11 minutes before being distracted and then took more than 25 minutes to regain their focus. Moreover, she said, “attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”
University of Connecticut management professor Nora Madjar similarly found that “when an employee must repeatedly switch his or her focus of attention, this often reduces the time available for deep, quality work. When that worker loses his or her train of thought, it takes time to start over and re-focus.’’
Quantitatively, research by The Economist showed that that logging onto social media costs the US economy US$650 billion per year, which is about US$4,500 per worker. And a study led by Harvard University research associate Piotr Bialowolski found that distraction at work cost a company almost 15 times more than health-related absenteeism,
The Reasons for Distraction
Distraction is a curse of modern life, as author and former Stanford Graduate School of Business Lecturer Nir Eyal puts it. Between our cell phones and computer screens, our kids and co-workers, our attention is constantly being diverted. However, this distraction is not new. Over 2,000 years ago, Socrates and Aristotle debated “Akrasia”, our tendency to act against our better judgement, and agreed that mortals were prone to distraction due to our weakness of will.
Ubiquitous technology and the effects of the pandemic have only exacerbated that weakness of will. People who work remotely struggle to manage distractions ranging from social media and digital entertainment to childcare and chores.
How to Avoid Distraction
Avoiding distraction delivers a multitude of benefits, including higher productivity and increased cognitive capabilities. The issue for many people is, quite simply, how to avoid getting distracted. Five actions make a tremendous difference.
1) Create an Effective Workspace: First, create an effective workspace and a familiar routine. Starting work at the same time as at the office and keeping a familiar schedule can help you stay focused, said Forbes contributor Ashira Prossack. It can also help to create a dedicated workplace in your home and dress like you do for the office. “What we wear has an impact on how we behave,” the Times of India noted, and research shows that clutter competes for your attention, decreases performance and increases stress.
2) Use Timeboxing: Then, create “timeboxes” on your calendar. “Timeboxes” are, simply, boxes of time on your calendar showing you’re going to do and when you’ll do it. Create a schedule for how to spend your time each day, eliminate all white space in your calendar and replace spaces with boxes of time for key tasks. As Nir Eyal describes it, timeboxing is the most effective way to make sure you’ll make time for what you value most.
3) Wait 10 Minutes: Next, “surf the urge” to do something else when you’re working on a project. Instead of immediately checking Twitter when you feel bored or looking at Facebook when you’re lonesome, for example, tell yourself that you’ll look at Twitter or Facebook ten minutes later. By noticing the potential distraction and allowing that sensation to crest then subside, like a surfer riding a wave, you allow that distracting internal trigger to pass, master it and overcome pre-existing habits.
4) Control Digital Devices: To take control of your devices, MacKay suggests disabling notifications, blocking distracting websites and keeping your tech out of sight whenever you don’t need it. The default settings on your devices and apps are designed to get your attention and can be distracting. Eyal suggests using tools such as News Feed Eradicator or Todobook to avoid or change notifications. And if you’re using your favourite digital activities too much, consider deleting them altogether.
5) Take Breaks: Finally, Prossack suggests setting timers for breaks to ensure that you don’t get lost in aimless web browsing, shopping, or social media. Harvard Business Review writer Maura Thomas also suggests using nagging thoughts such as “I think I need a snack” or “Isn’t it time to walk the dog?” to your advantage. Since physical movements like walking the dog or getting a snack provide relief after spending time doing “brain work”, planning breaks and using them as a reward can be beneficial.
While it may take a while to put these practices into place, taking these five steps can help you overcome the distractions, increase your focus and raise your productivity tremendously.
Richard is a freelance writer who has written for Today, The Asian Banker, Challenge, gtnews, OOSKAnews, other media and corporates. He has also written a book, Changing Lanes, Changing Lives. Read more articles at www.richardhartung.com