At any given moment, working in front of our screens, we have a choice: Distraction or production. The choice you make, dozens of times during the day, will make or break your life; will send you higher or keep you down. If you are looking for a productivity formula, welcome. One simple change will take you to new heights in terms of work productivity.
This is particularly important now, as a worldwide disaster is also a worldwide distraction. We are so connected that we know when they run out of toilet paper in a store in another country, as it is happening. Politicians are arguing, the press is commenting, people are sharing their own experiences, and charts and graphs tell a terrible story. No one knows how this will turn out.
That’s a lot of uncertainty and information to process.
Worse, it’s a lot of information about things over which we have no personal control. I think that is one of the main causes of stress in today’s world.
Ironically, it’s also an escape from the things that we DO have control over. Working is hard work, and the mind wants to get a break, and the break is as close as a new tab in our browser or the other screen.
What are we spending time on?
When we are awake, we are engaged in two types of mind activities. We are either observers or doers.
When we are doing, we are actively and deliberately working on something. We are fully engaged.
When we are observers, we are either simply observing without really learning anything, or we are observing in order to learn.
When we are observing in order to learn, we are once again engaged, so once again, our mind is working.
It is the observing without really learning anything that calls out to us constantly as we do the harder mental work. Many of us have two or three screens we are working on at any given moment, and those side screens call to us during the working day. “Time to check Facebook!” “What’s happening out there now?” “Oh, that reminds me . . . I need to buy X.” “I deserve a break. Time for a movie.”
If we were to add up the number of hours we now spend in observing without learning, we’d be rather surprised. Over the course of a working day, it doesn’t feel like much; a few minutes here and a few minutes there.
But it brings to mind a scene on a farm, where the farmer is plowing a field, let’s say with horses like they used to do. And every few minutes, he sees something in the next field he wants to look at, so he stops the horses and goes there to look. Or he sees his neighbors and stops to watch, or he catches the flight of a butterfly and stops to admire it. Pretty soon dark is coming and the field isn’t done. That happens to us all, every day, if we’re not careful. It’s just not as obvious as it is for that farmer in the field.
Now, some of you are probably thinking, “Yes, but we can’t work all the time!” And you are right. We can’t, and we shouldn’t. But work is where the money comes from to pay the rent and improve our safety and security in the world. Money just happens to be how we pay for the future we want for ourselves and our families. And, last I checked, no one is paying any of us to watch puppy videos on Facebook.
Unlike the farmer, the distractions are subtle and right at our fingertips. They are all around us, all the time. If we are aware of them and realize how much they can keep us from working, we can start to consciously observe and change our behavior. Self-observation and self-correction are our most powerful tools, definitely underused by all of us.
How to manage your distractions and increase your productivity
You can’t stop those random thoughts. And some of them might be perfectly legit. Maybe you just remembered something, and you want to check on it before you forget. Or while doing the work you’re doing, it reminds you of something else you want to do. Nothing wrong with that; it’s what you do next that elevates you or lowers you.
The formula? So simple. Just have a place to put that stuff, easily. I used to keep a paper pad next to my mouse; now I use a small iPad on my copy stand and write it in an app called Good Notes, which has turned into my most successful todo list to date. Right now I’m pretty happy with three screens I’ve created in Good Notes: Clients, ZP (our company’s initials), and Personal. I found that when I combined them all, the screen got too crowded and pretty messy over time. Now there’s enough room to add and erase tasks as needed and still keep it looking achievable.
The point is, write it down, then go back to work on the larger task. You’ll be able to focus on that “other” thing after you’re done finishing that larger task. The longer, more intense tasks are the ones that always bring the biggest return.
How often do you find yourself checking your social feeds? Email? The latest news? Yes, things change fast, but not that fast. You can afford an hour or two without checking and still be basically in the know.
I did an experiment one day; I marked down every time I was tempted to check social or the news. It happens multiple times during each hour. It’s rather surprising how often our minds want to go there. These are minutes that will never come back into your life, and 15 minutes in a social channel after you finish that big important task will do you a lot more good than checking 5 times every 10 minutes.
I’m always looking for one thing that will make the most difference, in all aspects of life. Doing this one thing—writing down that urge as it occurs, and coming back to it later—will make a big difference in your working life.
It’s a simple productivity formula that is easily adopted.
And very satisfying as you get those larger tasks/projects done and you can stand and deliver.