Controlling Overwhelming Inspiration

Have you ever noticed how distractions come flying at us in every direction all day long except when we wish we had something to do? I have. In fact, I’ve had this new post open for going on 45 minutes now and I’m only just getting back to it. As a result though, I’ve began researching ways to deal with distractions, and unlike articles of time management, there are as many suggestions on how to deal with distractions as there are people having a problem with it. So I’ve assembled all the ones that I think would work best and devised a sort of help “top 5.”

Recognize Your Distractions!

Any recovering addict will tell you that admittance is the first step. Hiding from reality only makes things worse, so look your problem in the face and tell it to stop bothering you. Paul Dickinson, a writer for LifeHack.org, wrote an article earlier in the year addressing this issue. Apart from working in a closed-off environment, (ie. disconnected from the net, writing in a full screen text editor, etc) Dickinson says to remove his distractions, he thinks about them before he starts working, claiming, “… if we sit down and just think about the distractions, it is usually simple enough to remove them. If we’re fully aware of what distracts us, and we consciously remove them, we can then start to concentrate on our work.”

This is what some people would call “nipping it in the butt.” If you address you distractions before you start working, you’ll be more aware of them if and when they start to creep back up on you. If you don’t address them however, it’s really easy to mindlessly lapse into your distractions like watching that episode of NCIS playing in the background, or reading a really interesting article on something off-topic rather than doing your research on distractions.

Stop Checking Your Email Every Five Minutes!

When e-mail was still an infant, people thought that it would be more efficient than calling someone while they’re working because the contact could check their email on later when they have time to stop what they’re doing. A study conducted by Dr. Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University in 2007, however, showed that people tend to respond to email the moment they get it. I know that personally, I check to see if I have email even when I know for a fact I don’t because the tab in my browser says “(0)”. It’s like when you’re hungry and you look in the fridge five times in a row just in case you missed something.

The problem with this though is that in the same study, Dr. Jackson found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email. That means that people who check their email every five minutes spend 8 1/2 hours a week recovering from the distraction. That’s half of a day every month just trying to figure out what you were supposed to be doing! If you think you have an email that needs answering, just keep working instead. Chances are it’s spam anyway.

“Embrace the Chaos”

Dawn Foster from Giga OM brings up a strategy that I do all the time and works really well for me. She calls it “Embacing the chaos,” and though I’m not too sure if that’s a term I’d use for it, the idea is to not necessarily to fight the distractions more than it is to stop worrying about them and just work on something that requires less thought; something menial and tedious. This strategy isn’t one that works with every situation, but for those times when it seems you just simply can’t escape the distractions it works great. In fact I do this in reverse anytime I have to something repetitive and boring. I’ll listen to an audio book or jam to some good music to take my mind off the repetitiveness of the task at hand.

Take Regular Breaks…

Especially if your work is on the computer or in a medium that strains you eyes.  When you get too tired looking at blocks of texts or comparing color pallets, your inclined to stop indefinitely, but if you take regular breaks, (before you’re necessarily that tired) you won’t get as strained later and you can work longer. Though this doesn’t mean to give into distractions under the guise of taking a break. Breaks are for rest not entertainment. Get up, go out side, go take a long stretch on your bed, etc. Anything other than what (or where) you’re working on.

Tell People You Are Trying to Work!

Put up a do not disturb sign or just ask others not to distract you. I can’t count on both of my hand hows many times I’ve been around some one who’s gotten angry that the people around them are distracting them but never let any of those people know that he or she was trying to work. For some reason people think it makes you rude when you ask some one not to bother you while you’re working, like you’re implying that they are annoying, so they don’t say anything until it gets to be too much to bear and they snap and act rude. All those distractions and negative side effects can be cancelled out just by simply asking others politely to not distract you while you’re trying to work.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with your distractions is though is that by giving into them and putting off your work, you’re only hurting yourself.

And as always let me know if any of the ideas presented here help you out at all! I’d love to discuss some of these things further.

Works Cited and Reference:

1. Dickinson, P. (n.d.). Dealing with Distractions. Lifehack. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/dealing-with-distractions.html

2. Babauta, L. (2007, June 1). 10 Ways to Eliminate Distractions. FreelanceSwitch. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://freelanceswitch.com/productivity/10-ways-to-eliminate-distractions/

3. Banks, R. (2008, September 16). Recovering from distractions. rb.trends. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://www.richardbanks.com/trends/?p=9687

4. Foster, D. (2009, March 20). Dealing With Distractions. GigaOM . Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://gigaom.com/collaboration/dealing-with-distractions/n/dealing-with-distractions/

5. Sarlin, A. (2010, July 22). How to Deal with Distractions in a Web Worker’s World. Lifehacker. Retrieved December 1, 2011, from http://lifehacker.com/5593523/deal-with-distractions-in-a-web-workers-world

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