Why we let ourselves get distracted

A year or so ago I’d find myself getting distracted easily. Distracted whilst trying to get ready to go out, distracted at work, distracted when trying to listen to people talk to me or distracted when watching TV or a film.

So many distractions, this device, that device, this email, that blog. This text, this phone call or another email. I needed to take some control to become more productive in work and in life. I set up some rules for myself to follow, and tried to recognise when I was getting distracted, to get me to stop being distracted. 🙂

Some disturbing facts about our time: during a working day we visit an average of forty different websites. In the space of an hour we switch between the different programmes in our computer thirty six times.

We consume three times as much information as we did thirty years ago. We communicate more via ‘the cloud’ – email, social networks, online forums etc – than directly with people. And if we don’t get a reply to an email or text within a few hours or at the latest after a day, the sender gets angry – or forgets what they asked in the first place.

Every time we check our email or when we feel the familiar vibration of our phone in our pocket, we get a small dopamine injection in our brains. Over time this turns into an addiction, which results in us wanting this distraction more and more.

So when we’re bored or stuck, we check our email or surf on Facebook or the internet. But every time we interrupt ourselves, we have to refocus ourselves afterwards, which costs time and energy.

Of course, these technological achievements also increase our efficiency at work; Google Maps improves our punctuality; thanks to Skype and email we can work from anywhere; and Facebook is a brilliant marketing tool and way to keep in touch.

The point is we’ve always equated computers with productivity. But when we look at our iPhone or Blackberry, we actually just give the impression of being productive. In fact we are distracting ourselves from work.

We don’t work more effectively with digital devices, we work faster. And more carelessly. We used to watch TV, now we watch our Smartphones and some of us have forgotten how to interact, faces stuck in to our phones too much.

Here are five suggestions to avoid distraction overdose:

1. Read and answer emails in the first and last hour of your working day.

2. Have a ‘no email Friday’ once a month. Meet or hoofs people instead.

3. Set up rules for your work email account to filter and manage the emails you get. Set it up so that certain emails are automatically filed for reading or reference: Send comms for reading into a separate folder, Send automatic replies, room booking emails etc into another folder. You get the idea. 🙂

4. Don’t check your personal emails (or Facebook if you want) at all for one day a week on a Saturday or Sunday.

5. Three times a year, follow the ‘three day rule’: go without email and the internet for three days.

(After three days without the internet you begin to relax a bit. You might sleep more soundly. You might wait a bit longer before answering an question, perhaps you’ll listen more, pay attention to your loved ones more, and live your life that little more too).

Try the steps above and let me know how you get on. 🙂

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