For many of us, boosting productivity is high on our list of priorities. However, as top mindset coach Jet Xavier says, you can’t achieve big things if you are distracted by small things.
Distractions are at the heart of low productivity, efficiency and effectiveness. And they are everywhere.
At work are you always reading or checking unimportant emails? Being interrupted by chatty co-workers? Having endless, pointless meetings? Surfing the net or engaging in social media unnecessarily?
Checking your phone constantly or texting? Not getting everything done in the allotted time? Finding yourself not focusing as you need to? Letting your mind constantly wander or ruminate about the past and the future?
A Harris Poll for Career Builder study showed the top four work distractions are talking or texting on the phone, gossiping or chatting at work, internet surfing and social media.
Various research shows we check our phones between 80 and 150 times a day; a Dscout study found people touch their phones up to 2617 times a day.
To be honest, as I write this article I have checked Facebook, Instagram, sent texts, checked my phone, stared at the cricket, gone for a swim and surfed the net on repeat mode for the last two hours.
Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, author of The Distracted Mind, speaks about distraction being goal interference: noise that degrades the ability to achieve a goal, or irrelevant information you are trying to ignore.
A study by Gloria Mark at the University of California found that people switch activities every three minutes and five seconds. Mark goes on to say that this is not only time wasted but also mental progress lost for up to 30 minutes.
Furthermore, a study by Killingsworth and Gilbert from Harvard University found that 47 per cent of people’s waking time is spent not paying attention.
I would add to this the constant mental gymnastics and mind wandering that happen inside our heads are a major source of distraction as well.
When you are continually ruminating on the past and focusing on the future it is hard to concentrate on the present. “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
How to stop distractions forever
Firstly, you need to understand what the goal interference and irrelevant information is. Workflow consultant Edward G Brown calls chatty co-workers, for example, “time bandits”.
These time bandits, I would also add, can be any of the top distractions: the phone, emails, social media, and so on. Understanding this allows you to target the interference proactively and effectively.
Once you have identified the time bandits and other goal interference, you need to set boundaries around your time and environment so you have control.
Create “time locks”, as Brown calls them, which improve productivity by 40 to 60 per cent.
Set agreements with yourself, other team members and management about what is acceptable and needed for effective workplace productivity.
Turn access to the phone and internet off at certain times and avoid interaction with tech or other team members.
Stopping distractions is also about the value, importance and priority you place on a task.
As Tim Ferris says, it’s not that you don’t have enough time or are too busy; it’s just not a priority to you.
This thinking, applied to distractions, means that you allow them to happen because you place no value on what you are doing – therefore you will allow goal interference or irrelevant information to distract you every time.
Finally, the biggest thing you can do to stop distractions forever is to train your mind to improve its concentration and focus. This is where practising mindfulness is important.
Mindfulness helps your mind become calm and clear. Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment.
Mindfulness decreases the head noise, negative rumination and mind wandering. It reduces stress and anxiety, improves focus and makes you emotionally less reactive.
Mindfulness gives you the opportunity to create a force field around you to enable you to zero in on what’s important and what needs your focus, whilst giving you the mental power to concentrate and not get distracted for long periods of time.