How the mind can wander. Maintaining concentration whilst trying to work is so difficult in this world of social multimedia and open plan offices. Everything seems to light up and make different chimes to alert us to updates, its no wonder that the Telegraph published in 2015 a report that showed Employees waste 759 hours each year due to workplace distractions – in the 3 years since the report was published, this figure will only have increased.
The worst mistake I ever made was putting “Facebook messenger” on my phone - today it’s been lighting up every 15 seconds whilst a messenger group I am in (for all the right reasons) records a gossipy conversation that should really have taken place over a coffee with just the 2 people concerned.
Its my own fault, here I am, working from home trying very hard to concentrate on complicated spreadsheet, I should have the phone turned over, or put in a different room, but as its virtually an extension of my left hand that’s not possible and plus, if I am honest, I am looking for a distraction to blame to relieve the brain ache.
Result, its taking me a lot longer to complete the piece of work plus on rechecking I keep finding silly continuity errors.
So just how do you avoid the distractions that surround us?
- Stop multitasking!
Jeff Sutherland, author of “SCRUM – the art of doing twice the work in half the time” is a great believer in this. He says that “doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse at both tasks. Don’t do it. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, you’re wrong, it does.”
SCRUM is a method of project managing to achieve deadlines and budget constraints. Jeff believes that when Project Managers are more than 1 project to work on at the same time, it takes a lot longer to complete the projects as the human brain needs time to adjust when moving from one project to next project slowing down their completion.
The best way to complete the 3 projects is to complete one at a time and therefore only move forward once one is finished.
Entrepreneurs that run multiple Companies do this by allocating specific time to work on each Company giving it their full concentration and focus. Elon Musk is reported to split his time across his many businesses by allocating full days to each - he starts out in LA at the beginning of the week dealing with SpaceX, then heads to Silicon Valley mid-week for Tesla, and then back to deal with SpaceX on Thursday evening and Friday.
Following Jeff Sutherlands SCRUM approach works in most industries and roles. A simple technique to follow is at the end of each work day to make a list of the 6 most important things you have to do the next work day and number them in their order of importance.
The following work day start at priority 1 and do not move onto the next task until you have finished it. Anything not finished may end up on the task list for the following day or perhaps on reflection, it’s no longer urgent and other priorities have crept onto the list. This is a simple technique that will keeps you focused on the priorities in your role.
- Think about your environment
Open plan offices are becoming the norm, some even have a games room and open kitchen areas to encourage team working and internal networking. Open plan offices are great, however sound travels and distractions are easily found.
If you have an important piece of work to complete seek out a quite place, book an office or plug yourself in to listen to music (as long at this isn’t something that is also a distraction for you).
Prepare any physical needs before you start work. Make sure you have drinks and snacks on-hand so that you don’t have to keep getting up. Get your comfy clothes on and set the temperature so you won’t have to worry about it once you’re ‘in the zone.
If you are someone that team members need to ask many questions to throughout the day, devise a technique where they can see that you are asking for an undisturbed period of time, perhaps put something on your desk that everyone knows mean you are asking to be left alone to work on something without interuption.
- Grab the low hanging fruit.
When presented with a long list of tasks that urgently need to be completed, we immediately feel better if we get some quick wins under our belt. Anything on your must do list that’s unfinished draws on your attention.
Unconscious anxiety about incomplete tasks can also make us vulnerable to distraction. Rather than letting worry take control, help yourself focus by simply knocking off a few high-anxiety but low-complexity tasks from your list.
- Cut out the noise
Carve out time and space for focus. Learn what your most productive times of day are, then schedule blocks of time for concentrated work on complex tasks. And don’t just schedule the time, create a ritual around building a peaceful space.
Turn off phones, alerts, sign out of email, close the door and ask not to be disturbed therefore giving the piece of work your undivided attention.
Give yourself a temporal and spatial oasis and then enjoy the space. Not only will it get completed in less time, it will be more accurate.
- Take a problem for a walk.
If the office environment makes it difficult to exclude interruption, develop an exercise plan. Take an interesting and important problem with you to the gym or for a walk outside to chew it over. Moving your body can supplement mental activity. And you’ll be less likely to encounter interruptions while in motion.
You don’t get to vote on whether our interruption-driven world is influencing you. Instead, you’ve got two choices: take control of these distractions or let them control you. If you allow the latter to happen, interruptions will undermine your performance, increase your stress, and weaken your capacity to pay attention.