It’s Friday, so concentration can be difficult. Fortunately, Life Balance speaker Jones Loflin has some beneficial advice that can keep you focused in the workplace, and make distractions work to your advantage!
When delivering a time management training, the question I get asked most often relates to dealing with distractions. These momentary menaces are wreaking havoc on productivity in the workplace and even extending their time wasting tentacles to our personal lives. Extended periods of focus and solitude are becoming as rare as a cashew cluster in a box of chocolates.
While reading several articles on the subject of distractions, I found a NY Times piece entitled Brain, Interrupted that was truly enlightening. Much of the article focuses on the research methodology for the experiment they conducted, so I’ll give you a simplified overview of what they did and what they found: Test subjects sat in a lab and completed a cognitive skills test. Group A completed the test without interruption while Groups B and C were told they might be “contacted for further instructions at any moment” and were, in fact, interrupted twice. Not surprisingly, the two groups who were interrupted made the test takers, in the writer’s words, “20 percent dumber.” Both the distraction of thinking about the potential interruption and the interruption itself led to the decline in cognitive ability. Nothing new right? Stay with me.
In Part 2, the three groups were again given a skills test. Group A took the test as planned, Group B was told that they would be interrupted, and Group C was told they would be interrupted-but were actually left alone to take the test. Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet… the box of chocolates is about to be opened. Group A performed as expected. Group B, however, the ones that were told they would be interrupted, showed only a 14% decline in results than Group A. Dr. Eyal Peer, one of the authors of the study, gave the following potential explanation: People who experience an interruption, and expect another, can learn to improve how they deal with it. Did you hear that? You can train your brain to handle distractions-or the threat of them-more effectively. But wait! There’s another sweet treat in their findings. Group C was told they would be interrupted, but were left alone to take the test. The result (drum roll please)… the group improved their scores by 43% and even outperformed Group A! Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson, authors of the article, write: It seems that Group C marshaled extra brain power to steel themselves against interruption, or perhaps the potential for interruptions served as a kind of deadline that helped them focus even better. There it is… we can actually use interruptions (or the threat of them) as a motivation to get things done now!
What does all this research mean for us (besides the fact that I get way too excited about really strange things)? Here are some of my thoughts:
Expect interruptions and distractions. Too often we build our plan for the day and don’t allow for the unexpected. When these things surprise us, they have a dramatic effect on our ability to think, respond effectively, and to recover our original level of focus.
Plan now for how we will deal with them. You know the usual suspects (i.e. notifications, coworker requests, unannounced meetings, etc.). As part of your daily or weekly plan, why not take an extra minute and think about how you can minimize their impact on your schedule?
Use interruptions and distractions as motivators to get work done. If you are expecting to be interrupted, you more readily recognize that every moment of focus time is more critical. You will be more reluctant to go “off task” or procrastinate. Hope this article serves as a simple reminder that you can take actions to improve the focus in your day… and enjoy better results.
How could you better handle the distractions in your day?
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