If you ask someone about their work and how it’s going, most people will complain about how busy they are. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done. We are living in a time when technology is supposed to be making our lives easier yet we are working longer hours, feeling more stressed and struggling to get our ‘to do’ list done.
Why is that? What’s behind all this busyness we’re experiencing? Although most people are quick to say they’re busy, if you asked them if they are busy being productive, I think many would say ‘no.’ If we were busy being productive, I don’t think we would have as many issues or complain as much. I think many people, upon reflection, would acknowledge they are busy being distracted. There are so many interruptions and things vying for our attention every day in the workplace.
If we were busy being productive, we would be spending time on the things that really matter to our jobs — the ‘deep work,’ which Cal Newport defined in his book of the same title in 2016. Deep work is the type of work that adds value to our company and to the marketplace. It’s the kind of work that makes us valuable as employees and fulfills us professionally. But deep work requires focus — concentrated attention for a period of time – which is difficult to achieve if you’re spending a lot of time being distracted.
The most common type of distractions impacting our productivity at work comes from the digital tools we use throughout the day, such as email, text and group chat. Although these tools can be very useful, they can also be a hindrance if not used properly. Without guidelines in place, they can easily hijack our attention and time, making us reactive and constantly available.
Besides reducing our productivity, these digital distractions have other side effects. They have weakened our attention span from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. They are impacting our memory, especially the short-term, leading to difficulties in retaining and understanding information. Distractions are also potentially decreasing our IQ or cognitive capacity, due to the state of “continuous partial attention” that we’re in because of them. As you can see, distractions come at a significant price when it comes to how we function mentally.
The time has come to stop talking about how busy we are and address the underlying causes that fuel our unhealthy, unfulfilling busyness. If you spend a lot of time being distracted, you have the power to change that. You can reduce digital distractions at work by creating healthier tech habits. There are a number of strategies to help you get started here. Will it be easy? No. But will it be worth it? Yes, without a doubt. Because being busy can be a positive experience, when you’re busy being productive. You’ll find it less stressful and more rewarding, both personally and professionally.
One more thought:
If you're looking for some help to reduce distractions yourself and/or among your team, and you live in the Metro Vancouver area, there's a workshop for that—“Reclaim Focus. Rediscover Productivity.” It’s designed to help professionals master the discipline of getting to the important value-generating work, while taming the distractions. See details here.
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