I'm a little embarrassed to admit that lately it's been quite a challenge for me to stay focused on tasks that require deep thinking and concentration. I don't think I'm alone in this. It's so easy for many of us to be distracted and pulled from one task to the other. Someone calls and need something from you ASAP, the allure of the bing of a new text arriving in your messages, a quick email to write that will let you cross one more thing off your To Do list, and, oh, those endless To Do lists. There is no shortage of distractions.
But, here's the clincher. Did you know that it can take about 25 minutes to get back into the state of mind you were in before you were distracted? Holy moly, it's no wonder that it sometimes takes me a long time to complete a project that requires sustained attention and focus! And, to make matters worse, these interruptions also negatively impact our creativity and our ability to innovate.
Another interesting thing that I learned from the research is that the more times we're externally interrupted in any given hour, the more times we interrupt ourselves in the next hour! Crazy, huh? It's like we're becoming habituated to interruptions.
What's the take away from this? How do we create environments that limit our interruptions and help retrain our brains to stay focused on one task? The first obvious thing is to do whatever you can do to control your technology - and not let it control you! Turn off the email alerts. Turn off the notifications on your phone so that YOU choose when you want to check your email or whatever it is that pulls on your attention. It has been found that if you have the option to work from home, that often helps to limit your interruptions (depending on what else is happening at home!) but that's obviously not a solution for everyone.
Another very simple idea, is when you've carved out a block of time to work on a project that needs your full concentration, set up automatic email responses stating that you'll be checking email at a later time and that they should call if it's urgent (it's usually not). In a future blog post, I'll be writing about "mindful emailing" from a workshop that I did with Dr. David M. Levy, University of Washington.
More fun facts -
*Office workers are interrupted roughly every three minutes.
*80% of interruptions at work are considered trivial.
*We spend approximately 2 hours per day recovering from interruptions.
I'd love to hear what you do to successfully reduce your interruptions!