Interruptions and Distractions

distractionsProductivity rarely occurs without the appropriate level of focus.  Yet, most of us work in a world of distractions where phone calls, wandering coworkers, texting friends, and internet diversions constantly interrupt the completion of our core tasks.  Research tells us that interruptions not only lengthen the time for task completion, but also reduces accuracy.  Although we might think of multi-tasking as a tool or simply a modern reality, it can be a distraction as well. What do I mean by multi-tasking? Multi-tasking encompasses performing two or more tasks simultaneously, moving back and forth from one thing to another, or completing a number of tasks in rapid succession.  In our fast-paced world, we all have to balance a few things at once to be successful.  However, most of us recognize that doing a little of a lot of things result in less than optimal results (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201103/technology-myth-multitasking).

Let’s look at a practical illustration.  The last few days one of my kids has worked on homework sitting at the kitchen table while I worked on client projects.  After the first few hours, I started to notice a common pattern: she would work on her homework for five to ten minutes, answer a text, shop online, pick another song to play, and return to homework.  Over the course of the evening, it became evident that an assignment that normally takes 30 minutes was requiring multiple hours to complete.  By the end of the evening, she was complaining about how much time she spent on homework and how tired she was.   As we talked, I thought about how often the same things happen to me.  I have great intentions to finish something, but personal as well as external distractions result in less than stellar productivity.

So, what can we do to reduce the impact of distractions and interruptions?

Set goals

The act of writing something down makes it a priority and increases the chance of completion.  Start the beginning of each day by listing those things you have to accomplish.  This process not only sets priorities, but also gives a sense of accomplishment as things are completed and marked off the list.

Assess your focus

It is important to assess your own focus and make adjustments where necessary.  During an hour, ask yourself the following:

  • How often did a switch tasks?
  • How often did you experience a distraction?
  • How often did you have to refresh your memory on what you were working on?

It is important that you compare your results to the norm.  A simple rule of thumb is three interruptions per hour. If you feel the way I do, three interruptions per hour would be a real luxury.

Manage interruptions

Every workplace has interruptions.  We will never escape interruptions unless we can hide ourselves away from others.  Since hiding is not a viable option, the next best thing is to manage interruptions.  Manage disturbances by setting aside time to respond to email, checking voicemail at fixed increments, and using a “do not disturb” sign.

Manage distractions

Avoid the temptation to check your personal phone and change the music every few minutes.  With all of the things that compete for our attention, we have to be careful not to be the source of our own inefficiency.

Take breaks

We all need breaks and benefit from redirecting our attention.   Once an hour take a few minutes for yourself.  Refresh your body and mind.

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