It’s 9 a.m.: You walk into the office, sit down, fire up your computer and attempt to start your workday. Ping! Everyone is talking about Trump’s latest tweet. Ping! There it goes again — a family member just texted you.
You pick up your phone to look at the news notification and answer your text, only to check a Facebook post and then watch a Youtube video. Suddenly, before you know it, an hour has passed, and you haven’t accomplished a single work-related task.
A lack of focus comes at a cost
The challenge at work, of course, has always been to dodge things that distract us. But today’s distractions feel different.
The amount of information available, the speed at which it can be disseminated and the ubiquity of access to new content on our devices has made for a trifecta of distraction.
What’s the cost of all this? In 1971, the psychologist Herbert A. Simon emphasized that a wealth of information means a dearth of something else: attention.
That was true decades ago, but it’s truer than ever today. Attention, it appears, seems to be the ultimate scare resource in today’s economy. And if we don’t address it now, it’s only going to get worse.
The most important skill of the 21st century
The workplace is rapidly changing, and in the near future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves “indistractable.”
Researchers have been telling us that attention and focus are the raw materials of human creativity and flourishing. And in the age of increased automation, the most sought-after jobs are those that require creative problem-solving, novel solutions and the kind of human ingenuity that comes from focusing deeply on the task at hand.
That said, being indistractable is the single most important skill for the 21st century. Many experts, including Adam Grant, who said that “success and happiness belong to people who can control their attention,” have addressed the importance of focus.
Here are some of the most common workplace distractions and how to hack them so you can become one step closer to mastering the skill of being indistractable:
Email is the curse of the modern worker. A study published in the International Journal of Information Management found office workers take an average of 64 seconds after checking email to reorient themselves to get back to work.
To reduce the total amount of time spent keeping your inbox in check, you must focus on two things:
Jason Fried, co-founder of the popular group-chat app Basecamp, acknowledged that being in a group chat can be similar to “being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda.”
He recommends enforcing four rules when it comes to group chats:
The primary objective of most meetings should be to gain consensus around a decision, not to create an echo chamber for the meeting organizer’s own thoughts.
One of the easiest ways to prevent superfluous meetings is to require two things of anyone who calls one:
Being present is also important. Once the meeting is held, everyone’s laptops and devices should be shut off or left at their desk so that they can be there in both body and mind.
Our smartphones have become indispensable. This miracle device, however, is also a major source of potential distraction. The good news is, being dependent isn’t the same as being addicted.
The plan below can save you countless hours of mindless phone time. Plus, implementing it takes less than an hour from start to finish, leaving no excuse for calling your phone “distracting” ever again.
While open-office floor plans offices were designed to foster idea-sharing and collaboration, they often lead to more distraction. Interruptions tend to decrease overall employee satisfaction and increase mistakes.
A multi-hospital study coordinated by the University of California, San Francisco, for example, found an 88% drop in the number of errors nurses made when they wore bright orange vests that told colleagues to not interrupt them.
Like the nurses in the study, you can reduce the number of interruptions while working by placing a “Do Not Interrupt” sign somewhere visible on your desk. It can also read something like, “I need to focus right now, but please come back later.”
This is a simple way to let coworkers know that you don’t want to be interrupted. It’s great because it sends an unambiguous message in a way that wearing headphones can’t.
By Nir Eyal
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