“Distractions will always be around, no matter what we do or where we do it. It’s more a question of how we manage them that counts.”
It’s never simple
Working isn’t always easy. We often get told to “do what you love, and you never have to work a day in your life.” But that’s not as true as we’d like to believe. Sometimes what we do and work on isn’t that black-and-white. Sometimes we have to do things that are difficult, and other times we do things that are so easy we wonder if we really did anything at all.
I’ve had both of those things, at different times working on different projects in different places. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to what we work on, but there are a few things that help us do them no matter what they are. One of those things, is to notice what distracts us.
What is a distraction anyway?
Well, that question might seem easy on the surface, but it can be a tad more complicated when we break it down. There are, I believe, varying degrees of distractions. Some of them are simple, and some of them are a little more subconscious than we realise. Here are some of the simple ones:
- Our smartphones (obviously)
- Emails (even the newsletter ones)
- Physical interruptions (someone walking in and asking you a question)
I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah I know that, Zach, that’s why I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and I have my emails set to notify me only during a specific time.” Well done, you wizard, but that’s not all. Here are examples of some of the more subliminal ones:
- Background noise (yes, this can distract you)
- Clutter (your desk doodads included)
- Hunger (good luck focusing on an empty stomach)
- Multi-tasking (believe it or not, this isn’t all that good)
- Mind-wandering (go ahead and tell me you don’t daydream during the day)
- Stress (whether we like it or not, this doesn’t go away easily)
Many people will have a hard time explaining these ones away, and if we’re being honest here, you almost can’t. Sometimes you can’t change where you’re sitting — or standing — when you work, and we all like to claim our desk accessories help us make our space “our own.” And when we go grab something to eat to cure our hunger, what are we doing? We’re stepping away from our work, ergo, we’re not getting done what we need to.
Distractions are all around us, some of them we don’t see and some of them stare us literally in the face. I just got an email notification while typing this on my computer. And you best believe I couldn’t help but glance up at it before having to remember what I was going to type next when my attention came back to the keys.
We like to think we have a hold on our distractions, but we rarely do. None of us are super-workers though, and none of us really should be to an extent. It’s okay to get distracted. What matters is how much you let yourself get distracted, and whether or not any of that is in your control.
Getting back on board
Distractions themselves are clever beasts. It’s rarely a case of, “oh you got me, you little distraction, you; I’ll just carry on where I left off here.” Nope. Did you know that it takes, on average, roughly 25 minutes to get your brain back on task after you’ve been distracted by something?
And when you couple that with our average high-score of being distracted by something every 11 minutes, that technically means we are inversely productive. How do we get any work done then at all? We do that by acknowledging what distracts us, and actively limiting those things. Not wishing them away, but actioning their boundaries.
The first step in a distraction-free environment is to see your distractions for what they are. For example, I get easily distracted by my phone. My Photoshop file is taking some time to save? Let me browse through Instagram quick. And when I’m pouring some coffee I sometimes catch up on the latest Morning Brew newsletter. Very rarely do I stay on-task for very long. So instead, I’ll sometimes put my phone away or purposefully not take it with me when I leave my desk. Can’t be distracted by something that isn’t there, right?
Go ahead, get lost
Sometimes, noticing distractions requires you to get lost in them, as well. We might not realise how much stress we’re carrying until we realise our fingers have stopped typing or we’ve dropped our pencil while lost in daydream-land. We get lost in mental narratives all the time, sometimes we notice it and sometimes we don’t; but they are ultimately distracting.
Some distractions also aren’t as easy to eliminate. We might not be able to solve the mental problems weighing on us as fast as putting our phones in another room. In that case it’s important to acknowledge that they’re weighing heavy, and then to give yourself time to deal with them accordingly. Then you can free that mental space for the work in front of you, because you know you’re going to work on that other thing later.
It’s not always so cut-and-dry, and some distractions are far harder to eliminate than others. What’s important is that we notice them. Sometimes it’s best to deal with them then and there, to save yourself the continuous headache (cars are racing past, and they’ll keep racing until you get up to close the window). Other times, however, you might not be able to attend to them immediately.
But only when we notice them can we do something about them. Distractions will always be around, no matter what we do or where we do it. It’s more a question of how we manage them that counts. What’s distracting you right now? For me, it’s the fact that I keep thinking my phone needs to charge. Let me go plug that in quick.