Distractions, distractions, distractions. Coinscidentally (and ironically) this blog post may have distracted you. I was distracted today when I saw an article on Lifehacker titled, “Research Shows How Much a Three Second Distraction Can Derail Your Work.” According to the research by Michigan State University, being distracted for as little as 2.8 seconds can cause you make more errors in your work. In fact, it can cause you to make twice as many errors in your work. Here’s what happened:
Study participants were asked to perform a series of tasks in order, such as identifying with a keystroke whether a letter was closer to the start or the end of the alphabet. Even without interruptions a small number of errors in sequence were made.
Sometimes participants were interrupted and told to type two letters – which took 2.8 seconds – before returning to the task. When this happened, they were twice as likely to mess up the sequence.
So the big question is, “How Do You Stop It?” There are a few ways to minimize distractions, but ultimately it’s your determination and boundaries you set up for yourself.
E-mail has come a long way. The evolution of technology in the past twenty years makes me feel like we’ve sped through some dramatic trends in email. Remember ‘Chain Letters‘ or ‘Chain Emails.’ It seems almost as silly as the trend to ‘like’ something on facebook to show support for a cause. Email for the most part has calmed down. I’m still shocked and laugh to myself when I get an e-mail from the “Prince of SomecountryIneverheardof.” But now, it’s just humorus.
I remember reading an article years ago about only checking your email twice a day. That one should dedicate a time, twice a day to check and reply to emails. That way you don’t get distracted and stop doing what you’re doing just reply to one email…every twenty minutes. Get ’em all read and replied to in one shot, and then make notes if an email requires you to do further work during the day.
There are a number of people who think that Tim Ferriss’ “4-Hour Work Week” is a fantasy. Personally, I can’t weigh in, but whether you agree with Tim’s philosophy or not, it doesn’t mean that his ideas are bad. Tim Ferriss recommends only checking your e-mail twice a day. Hell, he only checks it once a week! Here’s what Tim says in his blog post, “How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… or Once Every 10 Days”:
E-mail (and all of its Crackberry/digital leash/Twitter cousins) is the largest single interruption in modern life. In a digital world, creating time therefore hinges on minimizing e-mail. The fastest method I’ve found for controlling the e-mail impulse is to set up an autoresponder that indicates you will be checking e-mail twice per day or less. This is an example of “batching” tasks (performing like tasks at set times, between which you let them accumulate), and your success with batching will depend on two factors:
1. Your ability to train others to respect these intervals
and, much more difficult,
2. Your ability to discipline yourself to follow your own rules
Tim also has some good advice in a post titled “How to Stop Checking E-mail on the Evenings and Weekends,” where he lists 8 ‘rules’ you should live by when it comes to Email. They are (read the article for more information about each):
- “Batch” email at set times.
- Send and read email at different times
- Don’t scan email if you can’t immediately fix problems encountered
- Don’t BIF people during off-hours
- Don’t use the inbox for reminders or as a to-do list
- Set rules for email-to-phone escalation
- Before writing an email, ask yourself: “what problem am I trying to solve?” or “what is my ideal outcome?”
- Learn to make suggestions instead of asking questions
Notifications & Social Media!
With the advent of the iPhone and other ‘smart phones‘ (do people still say ‘smart phones’?) came ‘Notifications.’ I hate notifications because they distract me! At this point you can pretty much get notified if someone goes to the bathroom. It’s almost too much. Strike that… IT IS TOO MUCH! I always opt to turn off all my notifications on my phone. With Apple’s newest operating system, my computer has integrated notifications on it too. They magically pop up in the corner of my screen to let me know that someone ‘liked my post.’ Com’on…Do I really need to be distracted like that?! Turn off your notifications on your mobile device and/or computer. Take a page from the E-Mail rule above. I’m sure it will become a trend to check your social media notifications twice (or once) a day too!
If you know me, you know that I like to make people happy. Sometimes it effects me in a negative way because I have a hard time saying ‘no‘ to people. I remember having a job when I was younger as a ‘Boat Attendant.’ I remember being distracted so much that I eventually just stopped being a boat attendant and (sort of) was just a full-time ‘Distraction Handler’ and just handled all the distractions. I think every job I’ve ever had in my life included ‘People Distractions’ and you know what? It was all my fault. I didn’t set up boundaries to get my work done. It would get annoying. If I was having a bad day I would cringe every time I heard the door open and heard someone say “Can you help me with something real quick?” but through it all…it was my fault.
Furthermore, if you don’t set up boundaries from the ‘get-go,’ it’s harder to establish later on.
The ‘Other’ Distractions:
- Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
- Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
- Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
- Do not let people ramble
- Do not check e-mail constantly — “batch” and check at set times only
- Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
- Do not work more to fix overwhelm — prioritize
- Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
- Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should