By removing every object of attention that’s potentially more stimulating and attractive than what you intend to do, you give your brain no choice but to work on that task.
— Chris Bailey, “Hyperfocus”
Time and again, I find myself referring back to Chris Bailey’s brilliant book, “Hyperfocus; How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction.”
If you haven’t read it yet and are keen to learn more about how your brain works, so that you can work more productively—i.e. get done what you have to get done in less time—I highly recommend it.
In a previous post (“Focus Like a Laser Beam; Then Let Thy Mind Wander”) about Bailey’s “Hyperfocus” book, I wrote about how the brain operates in two very different ways: focused mode and creative mode.
In today’s post, I wanted to share some of Bailey’s insights on the danger of distractions and how to deal with them.
“The costs of an unrelated interruption can be massive,” he cautions. “It takes an average of twenty-five minutes to resume working on an activity after we’ve been interrupted, and before resuming that activity, we work on an average of 2.26 other tasks.”
In other words: “We don’t simply attend to the distraction or interruption and then return to the original task—we become distracted a second time before doing so.”
“Distractions become even costlier after the age of forty,” explains Bailey. “Your attentional space shrinks as you age, which makes it more difficult to get back on track.”
Bailey advises that we focus much longer if we tame distractions ahead of time.
Why do we love distractions?
“There is a simple reason why we fall victim to distractions,” writes Bailey. “Even though we know they are unproductive, in the moment they are much more enticing than our work. When our brain is even slightly resisting a task, it hunts for more attractive things it could do instead.”
Case in point is writing this blog. It is Saturday morning of a long weekend. This is my second (and last) writing task for today’s work session. I have set my timer for forty-seven minutes to write the first draft of this blog.
But I’m not gonna lie. Before opening up a fresh word doc, the thought crossed my mind: “Oooh…I wonder if the hotel in the Bahamas got back to me yet on the e-mail I sent to them yesterday, inquiring about availability? I could just take a quick peek in my e-mail to see…”
But I KNOW better!
I know e-mail, for me, is never a “quick peek.” E-mail is a vortex that sucks me in and before I know it, I will have lost those precious forty-seven minutes to answering e-mails that are not important. And even if they are important, they can certainly wait until the task that requires my intense focus—writing this blog—is completed.
But therein lies the problem: writing a blog is work. Yes, it’s work I love. But it’s still work and requires focus, effort, and creativity.
“If I don’t disable computer distractions ahead of time,” admits Bailey, “I might as well wave good-bye to my creativity.”
I hear ya! And yet, on some days, it still takes a bit of will power for me to stay clear of e-mail until after I have my writing tasks completed for the day. But I certainly make darn sure my computer doesn’t notify—interrupt—me about any incoming e-mails or Facebook likes, etc.
All notifications are turned off; so is the volume on my computer.
Short of a squirrel jumping on my windowsill, there is very little chance that anything external will distract me once I’m in the writing zone. But it’s still up to me to stay clear of exposing myself to all the other potential distractions, just waiting there on my computer.
If you are interested in learning more about identifying and taming all the different types of distractions that may be impeding your productivity and/or creativity, you might want to check out Bailey’s “Hyperfocus” book.
In the meantime, here is an interesting tidbit to leave you with:
Distractions from others aren’t quite as damaging as the times we interrupt ourselves. It takes an average of twenty-nine minutes to resume a task after we have interrupted our own work—however, we get back on track around six minutes more quickly if we’re interrupted by someone else.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must dash…there might be a Bahamas e-mail waiting!