There are lots of things people become addicted to. I believe one of the most prevalent isn’t ever mentioned in the same breath with the addictions you thought of as you were reading the first sentence.
Under-recognized, unspoken and without a support group, perhaps the biggest addiction that business people have is distractions. For example, from my article, Why Smartphones Make Us Dumb – the average mobile phone user looks at their phone 9 times per waking hour (yep that is the average). This is just one example; we all know distractions are all around us, and they are deadly to our focus, productivity and results.
So what can we do to deny the allure of the distraction, regain our focus, and maximize our productivity?
Good questions. Here are some answers for you.
Stop multi-tasking. You can’t do it anyway. What we actually do is rapidly switch from one task to the next, and with each switch our productivity drops. The distraction of one item (the email ding, or text beep) causes us to shift and destroys our momentum and productivity. Researchers say the best you can do when switch tasking is about 70% effectiveness on each task. One thing at a time.
Schedule email. I travel a lot and spend large chunks of time with Clients or delivering training. During these times I couldn’t check email if I wanted to. On these days, when I process email in batches, at planned times, I spend far less time on email. It works for me and those I have coached – it isn’t surprising it is a way to manage distractions. Schedule time for email and put those times in your calendar. Then process email then (and only) then.
Turn down the ringers, alerts and notifications. You turn down your ringer when you don’t want to be disturbed, right? That should be most of the time because you are doing something important like talking to someone, participating in a meeting or working on a project. Turn off the email alert, silence all the notifications on your phone, and you will be immediately reducing the possibility of distraction.
Make meetings no phone and email zones. Everyone I talk to about meetings feels they have too many of them and they take too long. And most also ask how to get people to focus on the meeting and not on their email. If we all stay focused on the topic we will finish sooner, and you will have time to do your email in a batch. And if you are telling people you process email in a batch, they won’t be expecting your immediate reply anyway.
Shut off the internet. If you really have trouble with some of the advice so far, but want to control your addiction, go cold turkey. Operate your PC or tablet without the internet on or put your phone in airplane mode (or turn it off). You aren’t the President of the United States – unless the building is on fire, you can seclude yourself from the distractions for a period of time.
Pick up the phone. If you haven’t noticed, email isn’t very good at a conversation. Pick up the phone and solve the problem, clarify the issue, or make a decision. It will eliminate some portion of your emails and therefore reduce the number of distractions overall.
Work in 60-90 minute intervals. That works best for us from a physiological psychological perspective, so listen to your body and your brain. Take a quick walk. Stand up. Drink a glass of water, or even check your email, and then get back to the distraction-free zone of your work.
This is a very short list, but it is enough for now. If you take these to heart and take action on them, your addiction will start to wither. It will be hard, after all, you are addicted. The pain of change will be replaced with greater success and satisfaction and much less stress.
All of these things are true and will help us wean ourselves from the distractions; and as a leader the message is doubly clear: we must do this for ourselves, and expect it of our teams. This one single change might be the biggest thing you could do to raise productivity in your organization this year.
Set an expectation and an example. Have a conversation with your team. Call it a support group if you want, but as a leader you have a responsibility for the production of your team. Helping them manage distractions can be a big key to that objective.