On average, dealing with distractions and interruptions at work can consume more than two hours out of your whole workday. It’s no different at home.
The boundaries between work and life are blurred and technology and our fast-paced lives interfere with our productivity and sense of well being. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the connection between lack of attention and their work/life productivity.
Although we seek cutting edge performance, short attention span, poor concentration and distraction are at epidemic proportions. Few of us are exempt from this debilitating problem. Even highly trained leaders and professionals, whose jobs require enormous amounts of attention and concentration, experience attention outages. These are the nanosecond breakdowns of attention during which you lose focus and short-term memory.
Here are some examples:
- A busy VP of marketing rushes from her house to her car as she tries making a cell phone call, and then realizes she is speaking into the television remote control.
- A professional speaker is careful to not leave his wallet on the ticket counter at the airport baggage window. But while talking to a colleague, he inadvertently stuffs it into a case that is being checked. Luckily, he has his ticket and license in hand so he can get on the plane. He has no money, but he does have a seat.
- A consultant brushes his teeth with hemorrhoid cream
When episodes like these occur, people sometimes think they are losing their minds. But although these experiences are troubling, all it really means is that they have temporarily lost their focus, not their minds. They suffered a brief, attention outage, a disconnection from their attention power. Even though they are high achievers, they need to pay better attention to their attention habits.
Many of us are experiencing incidents such as these more than ever before. Every day, we deal with information and technology overload. In addition to the multiple and competing demands of work/life, we must use an increasingly vast array of technology innovations, integrate multiple sources of information, and maintain equipment (e.g., which cord goes to the scanner? Which cable is for the iPod?) and store supplies (e.g., Where’s the ink cartridge for the printer, the toner for the fax, or the charger for the cell phone?). Not surprisingly, we become distracted and inattentive. Like the professionals described above, we’re prone to attention outages.
The earlier examples of attention failure result from momentary distractions. They illustrate a common, surface type of inattention: the occasional “attention slippage” that is inconvenient, not too costly, and sometimes, humorous. Sometimes, however, the incidents are not humorous—they are costly and inconvenient. You may forget to pay your credit card on time, sign a will or follow up with an important customer or client.
Although you may be aware of a growing deterioration of your productivity due to inattention, without a systematic approach to remedy the situation, you may just increase your stress and worry. Therefore, to increase your awareness in a useful manner, begin to investigate the conditions surrounding the difficulty. Pose questions such as:
- How often am I distracted due to cell phone, email or other digital device?
- How often do I suffer gaps in my attention due to the interruption of others?
- What are the tasks during which I’m most apt, to drift off and lose my concentration?
If you find that your attention is spotty and your productivity less than you’d like, then, begin to take action. Here are a few tips:
- Organize time your time to work on difficult tasks at times when you are most alert. For example, if you are a morning person, don’t plan on working tasks that require accuracy late at night.
- Organize your work space to screen out distracting sights and sounds. For example, face the wall, rather than a busy hallway.
- Take frequent, but brief breaks. For example, even a few minutes away from the computer screen allows your eyes (as well as your mind) gain a needed rest.
These are simple solutions to the complex problems related to attention and productivity. However, the use of such tips starts the process of awareness and problem-solving. Remember, the greater your attention to the task at hand, the greater your ability to complete the task with speed and accuracy. Start today and enjoy greater work/life productivity.
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