Being in business is a never ending journey to improve, achieve, innovate, redesign or in some other fashion continue to grow. Whether you are trying to grow your bottom line or develop key people in your company, the ability to stay focused and on-track to achieve your most important goals is continually being challenged. Some of the most common challenges include skill sets, commitment and decision making. But the most undermining challenge to getting things done is distractions.
What distractions really are
Distractions are unintended actions that divert our attention. They affect all of us and the number of ways to get distracted is growing. But being distracted is not an incurable disease. In fact, the vast majority of distractions that get in our way are self inflicted. That’s right, we do it to ourselves!
Why you embrace them
What appears to be a demand, interruption or enticement from the outside is actually a subconscious method we use to avoid doing the very things we have deemed important. We embrace our very own preference for being distracted to avoid dealing with an immerging problem or having to learn something new that is linked to a future set of actions. Distractions can immerge at any point during our intention to better our situations (initial evaluation, decision making and ultimately taking action). Where distractions are most prevalent and do the most damage to our desire for better results is when change is required.
So, take a moment and think about what distracts you. If you have already experienced a distraction today, stop and think about what you were working on when it hit. Now, think about why the distraction was more important than what you were working on. Answering this last question is where the insights start to surface.
In my years of coaching business professionals, I have observed something about distractions. The more uncomfortable a person is with a task, action or focus on a goal, the more self induced distractions begin to show up. At any other time, that text message you receive or the email that comes into your inbox would not be a distraction. It’s only distracting when you decide to break your concentration from what is really important to address it.
Here’s a list of the most deliberative distractions I have encountered:
- Instant messages
- Phone notifications
- Collaboration tools
- What you are wearing
- Phone calls
- People talking in the background
Every one of these situations has value and can be used for productive reasons. The point that they become distractions is when you are not resolute enough about what you are doing and why to over ride their calling.
Now, here’s a list of the most frequent reasons I observe for embracing distractions:
- Don’t really believe in what you are doing
- Lack the confidence to do what you are doing
- Task seems too difficult
- Having to address a sensitive issue with someone else
- Inability to say ‘No’ to things you should not be involved in.
- No real clarity about why you’ve chosen to do something.
- Insecure about being held accountable for making decisions
Your reasons may differ or they may be one of these and you’ve just not recognized it yet. Whatever the reason, when one of these triggers shows up, you will likely resort to one or more of the things listed above to reduce the stress and anxiety.
Possible solutions to curbing distraction tendencies
For those folks who genuinely suffer from attention disorders, the solutions are usually much more complex. This article will not attempt to address those situations. For everyone else, there are a few things that will unlock your dependency on distractions.
- Recognize that you embrace distractions. If you do, eliminate as many things from your work environment as possible that create distractions for you. Get rid of the clutter in your office or car. Restrict your use of instant messaging. Turn off your phone notifications. (There was a very revealing study on phone notifications and their ability to take someone off task. The study found that on average, it takes 24 minutes to get back on task after responding to a phone notification!)
- Develop a routine for yourself. Many of the routines we find ourselves in were not orchestrated for productivity, efficiency or achievement. They simply became the way we get through the day. Give yourself permission to wipe your schedule clean and organize a daily routine that works for you. Use a calendar system to identify the things you want to accomplish and the times you will do them. Then practice being disciplined by following your calendar.
- Attach meaning to what you are doing. Our decisions about what we do each day are driven by our emotions so being able to over ride distraction tendencies means attaching greater meaning to what you do and why you do it. When things are really important to us, we find ways to stay focused and avoid distractions.
- Understand your relationship with other people. If you value acceptance from others more than you value what is important for you to be focused on, you will attract all manner of distractions in the form of other people’s requests. Saying ‘Yes’ too often or to the wrong things creates huge distractions that many times leaves people feeling over committed and angry. When faced with a request from someone you know or work with, take a few minutes to consider it before saying anything. Should you be doing it or suggesting a way they can do it. Is it something you have time for? Is it something you are even interested in doing? Simply reducing your tendency to say ‘Yes’ at the drop of a hat will free you up to stay focused and on-track.
Distractions are everywhere these days. And as beneficial as technology has been to people personally and professionally, it has also broken down personal boundaries and fractured accomplishment. You don’t have to be held back by the distractions you create. You just need to get clear about what’s more important and practice behaviors that support them. In time, you will find fewer distractions to embrace.