Regardless of your exact job, it’s probably safe to assume that you’re required to juggle complex tasks, shifting deadlines and a whole host of interactions with other people during the average day. The modern-day working environment is an inherently fluid one – hard to predict and with constantly changing requirements at every turn.
Given this background, the ability to actually sit down, focus and churn out work is both critically important and increasingly hard to do. The very tools we use to open up entirely new revenue streams and fields of opportunity can also be our worst enemy when it comes to actually getting things done.
In this piece we’ll cover three particularly egregious offenders when it comes to building a distraction-free environment where you can truly be productive and how to guard against them.
- Cell Phones
The small, omnipresent devices we all carry around have long since outgrown their roots as simple voice-based communication vehicles. If you’re using any smartphone made within the last five years, you’ve got more raw computing power in your pocket than was used to put the first man on the moon.
This is great news in terms of what we can all achieve while out on the move but it also raises an enormous risk of being distracted at any given moment. If you have any sort of notifications enabled on your device, you’re opening up a virtual door that pretty much anybody can step through at will – poison for any type of productivity.
Even if you have your phone locked down, you still face the constant temptation to have a random browse of the internet or just “quickly” review your messages. Left unchecked, this tendency to constantly fidget with your phone can transform the device into little more than a worry-engine and absolutely destroy any chance you have of flow.
What to do to avoid problems: Disable as many notifications as possible and stop being a slave to those incoming pings and beeps. Also, get into the habit of simply being physically separated from your phone for discrete blocks of time each day where you can really focus. Unless it’s really an integral part of your job, you shouldn’t be married to your phone.
- Instant Messaging
There’s a lot to be said for instant messaging. Regardless of what solution you’re using – Slack, Skype messaging, Google Chat etc. – it’s potentially a very elegant way of actually avoiding distractions in day-to-day office life.
Implemented correctly, a sensible work-based instant messaging system facilitates simple remote communication and removes a lot of the need for in-person pop-ins in a local office environment. The beauty of instant messaging is that it’s asynchronous i.e. you can see the message but don’t have to immediately stop what you’re doing as you would with a phone call or if somebody knocked on your door.
So, instant messaging is potentially a very smart tool to be using. There are however risks. The primary one is having social instant messaging options open during times where you are trying to work. This is simply asking for trouble and will inevitably blow an enormous hole in your ability to concentrate. There are really very few excuses for even turning a non-work related account on.
When it comes to using instant messaging as a work-related tool, a separate set of issues emerge. It can quickly devolve into an arena where passive-aggressive behaviour flourishes or one dominated by a distracting stream of mindless chatter. Discipline is required to make the system work.
What to do to avoid problems: Step one is simple – don’t use non-work related instant messaging accounts during your working day. With work-related accounts, make sure you’re staying on point in terms of communication and checking messages at scheduled times rather than sitting there waiting/hoping to be interrupted.
- Social Media
Ahhh…social media! Has a more perfect method of distraction ever been invented? It’s certainly hard to think of one. Television, at least, traditionally required a specific device in order to get sucked in, one that wasn’t typically available in the standard office environment.
Social media is omnipresent these days, always there waiting to suck you into swiping and take your attention away from the task at hand. There are huge plus points to social media of course. It’s brought the world closer and made it exponentially easier to maintain real connections with friends and family when you are physically absent. There’s virtually no positive payoff in terms of work and productivity however.
Unless your company has totally locked down any use of social media, Facebook, Twitter and the like are going to be a constant temptation. Getting a grip on your use of the media and stopping them ruining your chances of getting things done is going to require some discipline.
What to do to avoid problems: Start by turning off all notifications on your social media accounts. You should be in control of your attention rather than slavishly responding every time you see that little icon pop up or hear a noise. If you do have access to social media in work, select distinct times for checking your accounts and treat that as scheduled break time rather than randomly disrupting your day with trips to the virtual water cooler.
The opportunities available to us all living in an always-on, truly networked world are breathtaking and there’s a sense that we’re only at the beginning of this particular part of the story.
Taking true advantage of these opportunities to boost your productivity, however requires focus, discipline and the pruning out of distractions. Ironically, many of the very tools which power this brave new world also represent some of the biggest obstacles in the way of actually profiting in it.
The three risks we’ve identified above are the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many avenues of distraction you can walk down in the course of the average day but they are among the most damaging for your productivity.
We hope the simple steps we’ve outlined help you start taking back control of your day and powering forward towards a successful future with a clear mind!