Woman working while having a lot of thoughts in mind

Overcoming the Distraction Syndrome

Our attention space has been one of the major casualties of the information age. According to a Microsoft study conducted in May 2015, an adult human’s average concentration span had decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to only 8 seconds in 2015. Putting this finding into context, the attention span of humans is a second shorter than that of a goldfish, which has an attention span of nine seconds.

The constant barrage of emails and phone calls is relentlessly assaulting our ability to concentrate. Moreover, social media has accustomed us to frequently change tasks and divide our attention. Being frequently distracted can put our mental health at risk as well as our physical well-being.

Danger Posed by Distractedness

A Pew Research found that in 2015 alone the number of pedestrians in the US who were seriously injured or died as a result of wandering into traffic while looking at their phones totalled 8,000. In Augsburg, Germany, stop lights have been installed at busy intersections for pedestrians who are distracted with their phones.

Impact on the Workplace

Office workers are interrupted every three minutes recent studies have found. Once interrupted, it can take about 23 minutes to get the focus back on the original task. Whether it’s the chat between colleagues within earshot that you can’t tune out, the never-ending meetings and memos or a co-worker stopping by your desk to ask a question, the current open-plan set up in offices is tailor made to break focus and concentration.

Here are five tips to fight this frequent attack of distractions and interruptions, especially if you are working on detailed or creative tasks:

  1. Deactivate notification for new messages for email, text messages, Facebook and LinkedIn. Your work life will be transformed by following this one tip alone.
  2. If you have an office door close it and ask everyone not to disturb you unless it is a real emergency.
  3. Turn off your mobile phone and stand firm against FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and remind yourself that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you are incommunicado for a while.
  4. Save a time in your day for intentional thinking. Intel recently launched a program letting employees set aside several hours each week for ‘heads down’ work. During this time, employees can choose not to reply to emails or join meetings. The results were really positive, as within the first few months after the program’s launch a patent-worthy innovation was developed by an employee during ‘heads down’ hours.
  5. Be in charge of your email. Consider using an email management tool such as SaneBox if you always end up being a slave to your inbox. By using SaneBox or similar tools such as Mailstrom, Alto or Inky, you can control the frequency and flow of email communication. Alternatively, place clear restrictions around your access to email during the day. Many people have become very productive by developing a habit of checking their email for only 20 minutes, four times daily. Between these periods, their ‘out of office’ notice is turned on informing when they will check their email next so people know when to expect a reply.

To be able to establish momentum and slip into a low state, it is important to be able to concentrate and focus intensely on critical tasks. Remember these words from famed American author Og Mandino: “It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world”.

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