You’re on a conference call and decide to respond to a few emails to “get more done.” Suddenly the leader of the call asks you a question. Huh? What? It’s embarrassing. You have no idea what the question was and you even forgot what the call was about. You are distracted. You’re at a stop light and pick up your phone to see if there is a random email that might be important. Like maybe you won that Powerball lottery for a million or two and it turns out it’s an email with an offer for a low interest rate credit card. Junk mail. Why is the truck behind you honking? The light is green and you were distracted.
Technology has turned us into skimmers and task switchers. Information is constantly crawling across the bottom of our television sets, the side bar of our inboxes and notifications are pinging away on our phones. In the meantime, we are losing the connections in our life as we scan the environment for more information. Let me check my phone while I have lunch with my spouse. What is this saying to my spouse? You’re not worth 100% of my attention. Don’t you hate it when you are talking to your boss on the phone and you can hear them tapping away on their keyboard? It’s time to get your attention and life back.
So here are the ways to calm your distracted brain:
1. Setup time zones. A programmer from my 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity class started setting up 90-minute time zones to program for a particular project. He found he was much more focused and the project moved ahead at a faster pace. Put it in your calendar. I know that I always write this blog on a Saturday morning after breakfast for about an hour to 90 minutes. When I write over several days, my editor can tell. The thoughts aren’t as cohesive. Having a hard and fast time schedule helps me do my best work.
2. Eliminate task switching. Task switching is a productivity drain. As Dr. Susan Weinschrenk wrote for Psychology Today, “Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.” Acknowledging the fallacy that “multi-tasking” is accomplishing more can be half the battle. Realize that you need to mono task and devote the time to do so. So answer emails from 9 until 10 and return phone calls at 11 until noon. Devote your time to one type of work at a time and you will fly through the work. Imagine having 40% of your productivity back.
3. Turn to R mode. I recently read Tony Schwartz’ The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working. He suggests tapping into your right brain (r mode) which is where your intuition and holistic thinking takes place. You probably find yourself in R mode when you are in the shower or as you drift off to sleep. The left brain (l mode) is like your inner control freak and likes to keep things according to a plan whereas r mode is the day dreamer tapping into the unconscious. Insight is in the right brain. Novelty is food for the left brain (i.e. SQUIRREL!). To dampen down the novelty of all these distractions you need to turn on the right brain. So if you need to really think about a project creatively, think about turning off all the distractions, dim the lights and get out a pad of paper (i.e. low tech) to increase your focus.
4. Practice mindfulness. I’ve been using Shirzad Chamine’s 15 mindfulness meditations for almost a year. I have to say it has helped me stay centered. When you come into your body and stay out of your head it’s like stepping behind a waterfall. Distractions are falling in front of you but I have the clarity to step behind. I had several conflicts while I was traveling last week and I stayed clearly in response mode versus react mode. My daughter even commented that she knew I had a lot going on but it didn’t affect my ability to be present with her. Schwartz recommends a meditation or mindfulness practice as well. I’m less likely to fall into the lure of being stressed out. I can sit back and pick my response instead of a knee jerk reaction. It’s quite liberating and keeps many distractions from even creeping in.
5. Take a break. Schwarz recommends mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks. So put in your 90 minutes of super productivity and then go for a walk. Or meditate. Or open a book. Taking a break renews your body and mind. Make sure your employees are doing the same as well. Some type of plan for renewal keeps you going in the long run. Essentially, plan on 4 – 90 minute blocks of time with 15-30 minute renewal breaks in between. Believe it or not, you will get more done than if you work 10 hours straight. And the quality of your work will be better.
6. Work on connecting with others. When you are out to lunch with your coworker, put down your phone. I know a group of folks who have lunch on a regular basis. They all put their phones at the center of the table, and the first one to pick up their phone, pays for the check. Turning off your notifications and putting your phone away is the quickest way to show the folks around you that are there for them. “You are worth my undivided attention.” It will improve your relationships. People feel valued when you’re engaged with them and aren’t staring at your phone.
I’m still guilty of checking my phone in my car. I know one client of mine who said they would put their phone in the back seat to make sure they didn’t check it. Being scattered all day can be a way of life. Now I’m going to take my own advice and take my dog for a walk (see #5).