Monday, December 5, 2011

The age of distraction

One of the biggest struggles I have is maintaining focus. I can safely assume that majority of the readers of this blog suffer from the same problem. We live in age of distraction.

First there is the email. And not just one email - work email, personal email, personal junk email.

And then there is twitter - constant, non-stop updates from your friends, from people that you admire.

And then there is facebook. What is your social circle up to?

Not to mention blogs, TV, the news etc.

So why is it that these distractions have such a powerful hold on us? The book 'Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction' downloadable for free here, gives several reasons why this is the case:

1. Immediate gratification: getting an email brings with it immediate gratification. Someone remembered you! You are part of a social group! And resisting the urge for immediate gratification takes a fair amount of mental energy.

2. FOMO: or fear of missing out. What would happen if you got left behind your blogs? Next time you meet you your friends, would they make fun of you? Or would you not be able to contribute to conversations as much because you did not catch up on your blogs/news?

3. Addiction: once you do something enough, it becomes a habit; an addition

The book suggests a few steps to achieve focus despite the distractions:

1. Set some ground rules:
For example, email checks once an hour, on the hour. These ground rules should be setup based on your situation. For example, if your boss expects you to check email frequently, either communicate to him/her that you will check email less often to increase your productivity, or expect to get a lot of crap! Recognize when you break rules, but do not get disheartened. These things take time; often, a lot of time!

2. Shut off notifications: In words of a great philosopher (not sure who) "The human race progresses by making more and more behaviors automatic." We all have a limited amount of willpower, and it is a reservoir of energy that gets spent every time we use it. So shut off email notifications, twitter notifications, the red light on your blackberry (if you live in the 19th century like I do). Also, some softwares help a lot. For example, with TrayIT is a piece of software that lets you minimize windows to the System tray rather than the Taskbar is super helpful. Also, 'Rescue Time' is a software that runs in the background and monitors your computer behavior, rewarding you for productive applications and taking points away for negative behavior. And you can see what your time sink is (for me, its become shopping for Holiday deals!)

3. Be energized: sleep well, exercise, eat well etc. etc. The more energy you have, the more willpower you will have and will less likely be distracted.

4. Clear things: off your desk, desktop. Only have things you need to work: this includes internet applications. Do just the minimum

5. Slow down: slow down and take your time with every task. This will likely help you concentrate, and the work will get done faster.

Hope this was useful. For more details, read the book mentioned above. It truly is amazing, and its free to download the pdf (how awesome is that!)

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