If you cannot focus on one thing at a time, or cannot maintain attention on one thing for as long as you want to, that is distraction. Distraction dilutes brain power, frazzles the nerves, and results in non-optimum outcomes. You end up stressed out and spun around, and don’t even have the satisfaction of a job well done. We supposedly live in a multitasking world, but multitasking is just multi-failing.
The cure is to do one thing at a time. That’s it in a nutshell. Do just what you’re doing, and don’t do anything else. To spell it out a little more completely, here are six types of distraction-causing things that you can easily remove, in order to get a little more focused:
1. Shut off all other input. No music, no videos, no movies, no texting. Unless you need it for work (or whatever it is you’re doing), turn it off until you are ready to give it 100 percent of your attention. Having media on in the background actually uses up a large portion of the neurons that could otherwise be employed on the task at hand. Watching Game of Thrones while you do your taxes might not be a good idea.
2. If you need to use the Internet , block out all other web activities. Do not check Twitter or FB—close those tabs—and shut off any alerts, badges, or other ways they have of grabbing your attention. Do not click on any links or bookmarks that do not take you directly to a site relevant to the task you are doing.
3. Filter your email. You may have to use email for work, but you don’t have to be subjected to every notification you get from a social networking site or forwarded joke from your great aunt. These interruptions cost brain power, and it all adds up. Use preferences to switch off as many notifications as you can. Keep personal emails to a minimum. Better yet, get separate accounts for work and personal emails so that you can work without interruption. This will be good for your personal time, too, since work emails will not intrude.
4. Tame your phone. The phone is there to serve you, not the other way around. Unless you really need to be contacted, keep it off or at least silent. Stop checking it and switch off texting notices and alerts. Do not even look at it except to make a necessary call. If you can leave it turned off in another room, all the better.
5. Keep non-essential talk to a minimum. When you are trying to focus on a task, gabbing is just another form of irrelevant input. Cooperatively working towards a common goal with people we like is one of life’s most satisfying activities, but listening to a coworker dump about their bad date isn’t helping you finish your job. Without being rude, just keep moving things towards silent, efficient completion. If, on the other hand, it is time to talk, give speaking and listening your full attention.
These are just a few of the basics, but you get the idea. Pulling the plug on all these inputs can be disconcerting at first. You may feel disoriented, anxious, or alone. So take it easy and undo distraction at your own pace. Once you get a taste for it, it will take on a life of its own. Being present and concentrated feels good, and is immensely more fulfilling.
This doesn’t just count for work. If you’re playing a game, play the game. If you’re making love, make love. Chop wood, carry water. You get the idea.
copyright © 2011 Michael W. Taft
photo by ihtatho