When I became a manager, I instantly earned a seat on “leadership row” but declined the relo. I wanted to be off the beaten track, away from the buzz and the interruptions. It worked because I spent enough time in meetings to stay connected with my colleagues and “in the know.” Later, as an HR manager, I made the argument that being tucked away in a small office by the rear exit meant that I could focus on employees who, often discretely, needed my listening ear. It turns out that my location decisions proved wise as studies show that the typical manager is interrupted every eight minutes. And, no surprise, interruptions occur 64 percent more often in an open office. Long live the office door!
Whether it’s work, housework, or a crafts project, it helps to understand that anything that pulls you away from what you are focused on is a distraction that you can learn to pre-empt or manage.
What makes us distracted?
Our basic needs
We’re hungry, we’re sleepy, we feel the need to get up and move. The longer we ignore these needs, the more likely we will become frustrated and stressed.
Our wandering mind
It’s “normal” for our mind to wander when we are:
- unclear about where to start or what the end goal is
- not invested in the task
- thinking about what we’d prefer to be doing
- feeling bad about other things we’re not getting to
- thinking about the future
Other people, the sound of a nearby lawnmower, the dog barking, a cluttered desk… you name it; we are bombarded by distracting stimuli.
Our 24/7 technology
The temptation to check your email, voicemail, text messages is nothing short of CONSTANT and draining.
Strategies for managing distractions
Attend to your basic needs Getting enough sleep means that you will be more alert and less likely to become irritable. Eating before your morning Zoom call means not being distracted by hunger. If sitting at the sewing machine for too long makes you antsy, take a brief walk or do some stretching before settling in.
Manage your mind Whenever a distracting thought enters your mind, give it a place on your to-do list and then return to the task at hand. I keep a list near my mousepad for jotting down these thoughts so that I can return to them later. It may be a mundane thing, or a breakthrough thought that makes it to the next day’s priority list. By “parking” these worthy distractions, we know we won’t lose them and can return to our focus.
Deal with your fears Fear of a task can paralyze us. Whatever the fear is, we can learn to manage it by taking small steps and thereby gain confidence along the way. Inaction simply reinforces fear and clearly makes our goal unattainable.
Make your space work for you Ask yourself what small or large changes you can make that will minimize distractions. I moved the birdfeeder from outside my office window because it’s allure was simply too distracting. Maybe for you it’s letting the kids know that a closed-door means mom is in concentration mode and should not be disturbed
Control your technology A great deal has been written about our “addiction” to checking, checking, and rechecking our feeds, texts, and emails. The best thing to get that habit under control is to remind yourself that
1. You are in charge. And . . .
2. It will be there when you decide to get to it.