I don’t think you need me to remind you that distractions can be everywhere. After reading this article, you might feel the need to refresh your Twitter feed or check your email notification.
The constant state of distraction has become so embedded in our daily lives, that we often don’t even notice ourselves falling for it. Do you ever find yourself scrolling through your phone without even thinking about it?
However, while interruptions may seem to be harmless or proof of our ability juggle multiple tasks and manage our workload, studies have shown that they can be very disruptive.
Research by Gloria Mark from the University of California at Irvine found that it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds for an employee to return to their original task after being interrupted. Employees were switching tasks between three and five times per minute, according to observers who observed their activities in workplaces. About half of these interruptions were self-initiated.
Thatcher Wine, author of a new book on personal development, says that we are completely out of practice when it is comes to focusing only one thing at once, also known as monotasking.
Wine says that “our constant state of busyness and attempted multitasking have caused these monotasking muscle to atrophy,” making it more likely that we will be distracted by the sound or the ‘need to’ respond to another email.
He argues that this is a problem as we often try to do both at once.
There is hope. His book – The Twelve Monotasks – Do One Thing at a Time To Do Everything Better promises that with practice, it is possible to train our focus and strengthen our “monotasking muscles”.
Wine encourages the reader to engage in 12 activities, including reading, listening and learning. These exercises will improve our ability to multitask, Wine says. This can be used in other areas of your life.
Many of the tips and tricks in the book about staying focused and attentive are repeated over and over. The best strategies are the same regardless of the task: being fully present in the moment and turning off your phone, clearing your calendar, sitting comfortably, and dressing comfortably.
What do you do if you are trying to monotask but a distraction occurs? Wine says that acknowledging distractions is key. Then, you must return to your monotask.
He is attempting to show that you can recognize distractions and not succumb to them blindly or unthinkingly.
This is the first step towards becoming more self-aware. Knowing your enemy is the best way to defeat your enemy. It’s a good idea to make a list of the top distractions you have, such as your phone notifications and requests for assistance from your team. This helps you to be more aware and to challenge distracting behaviors when they occur.
This internal self-discipline can be very useful. How can we put these lessons to use in our daily work lives?
Many of us work in jobs that require us to constantly communicate with others, check in, manage multiple projects, and be available at all times. Many of the distractions that we face will not disappear if we ignore them.
It is here that a well-planned day can be so helpful.
You could, for example, reserve creative jobs that require deep focus (which are especially suited to a monotasking approach) for the times you’re most alert. You can block out times on your calendar and set up any team communication apps to ‘do no disturb’. Also, ensure you are in a calm environment that you don’t get disturbed. You’ll be ready to monotask when it comes.
What about distractions that may occur during this time or throughout the day?
You can schedule a time at the end to deal with distractions that aren’t urgent but don’t disappear. This is what I call a “distraction demolition” and it involves deleting, ignoring, saving or responding to every email, message, and notification that I receive from that day. Distractions that keep popping up repeatedly should be either delegated, or automated.
Wine is correct when he states that monotasking in a world filled with distractions requires effort and dedication, but ultimately yields rewards. These skills can be flexibly even in the most hectic of jobs if we create the right environment.