Everyone knows how digital distractions dominate and divert our attention. Beep-beep, ding-ding, bzzz-bzzz. It’s like Vegas 24/7.
(By the way, ironically, the titans of most social media companies and cell phone manufacturers forbid, yes, forbid cell phone to their kids. Do you think they know something we don’t?).
Arguably the biggest distraction for people in business are emails.
Emails can really, really take you off your game.
When do you read your emails? First thing in the morning? All through the day? At discrete points in the day?
I read a stat the other day that Icebreaker, a consulting firm, reckons you spend 28% of your day managing email. That’s almost a third!
That’s one-third of your precious work-time spent responding (reacting?) to other people’s agendas. Monkeys placed squarely on your back.
Yes, yes, I know some of it you have to deal with, maybe most of it. The question is when? Instantly? In the order they land in your INBOX?
Emails have a magnetic pull like gravity. No matter how much discipline and systems I put in place there is that pull. Can you relate?
It’s like an inner voice that says – “what if someone has something urgent?” “what if I just landed a new contract?”, or, worse, “are there any ticking time bombs in my INBOX?”
We all, I’m sure have your own version of a ticking time bomb – maybe it’s an upset customer, or a breakdown with an employee, or a delivery order not made on time. Could be anything that worries you about your business.
The Peace of Working in Africa
People often question how I can work so productively in Kenya, Africa where my wife and I spend a few months each year serving children without parents.
It’s amazing getting up in the morning and going to work. You see, at 9am in Africa it is either 10pm or 11pm on the West Coast in Canada. Work is finished in Canada.
…and that means…
There are NO distractions. The kids are at school at 7am, the birds are singing, and I can really focus in. I can do online marketing work (we have grown our business while I am in Africa to the point my Team encourages me to go back so that we get more clients!). I get lots of great work done because…I…am…not…distracted…with…emails!
For me, from 9am until late afternoon (the first real email flow does not start until 7pm African time/9am on the West Coast) I am in a zone of delicious focus-time.
I know most people cannot just get up and go run their business in Africa. I share that because for me it was a shock seeing and feeling (it is so palatable the feeling of “no-distraction”) what it is like to work with no thought of email-flow.
You see, when I come back to Canada even if I do not look at emails until noon, let’s say, my mind is partly focussed on “what’s happening out there?” Should I check my emails? What’s going on?
I just feel/sense the difference. It’s hard to explain until you’ve experienced a time zone shift like that.
(By the way, I designed our business to work virtually so myself – and our Team – can be anywhere. It is the nature of technology that has revolutionized accounting that allows for this).
Other Focus-Robbing Distractions
What other distractions do we have to deal with? I don’t need to tell you about the impact of texts and social media as distractions. Just one ding-ding on your phone they say can take 25 minutes to re-focus your mind on what you were doing if you are in an intense state.
One way to re-train your mind to focus for long periods is reading. And the best gadget to get you offline to read that I have found is a Kindle!
Why? Because a Kindle is not a computer. It is a library of books in your hand. A library. In your hand. And books require focus. The technology behind the Kindle (which is why they are not color) is a special highly developed screen-technology called e-ink. It is the closest to paper every developed for digital reading.
More importantly, when you read a Kindle you cannot get distracted by texts, surfing the net, or emails. No Kindle has ever come bundled with those. An anti-distraction machine.
E-ink has no glare, so you don’t get eye strain (well, the same as you would reading a book, so some eye strain will always be there). It is the difference between reading a book as a book and reading a book on a TV screen because smartphones and tablets are LED backlit screens.
Try this test some time – when in a coffee shop or on a long airline flight look for the Kindle users versus tablet/phone users. Notice something? Don’t they seem much more relaxed, calm and centred?
It could be because of long-term sustained focus…
Ok, back to our focus-conversation…
Focus on Making Your Company Great
With increased focus and concentration, you can start to work on making your company great.
Time for marketing strategies, systems, employee engagement, customer engagement, just plain legs-up, chair tilted back, hands behind head silent thinking about your business and how to leverage it.
It was once thought that gamers and people adept at fast internet surfing would have developed some laser sharp, valuable multi-tasking (an impossibility, by the way) skills.
Here is what a study found out in 2009 (this is from a 2014 INC Magazine article):
“Juggling digital tasks certainly doesn’t help with… [focusing on important tasks]. In 2009, researchers at Stanford University’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab gave cognitive tests to 49 subjects who spent a lot of time surfing the Internet, watching TV, and hanging out on Facebook. They gave the same tests to 52 people who multitasked significantly less often. The conventional wisdom, at the time, was that the Internet actually sharpened cognitive skills: fast-fingered gamers would make great fighter pilots and brain surgeons, the digital cheerleaders said.
But wait! To the researchers’ surprise, the heavy online users actually scored poorly. Among other things, they had less control over their attention and were much less able to distinguish important information from trivia.
“They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” says Stanford communication professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers whose findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Everything distracts them.”
Before we get too smug, remember distractions is the water we all swim in now.
What is the solution?
Here are a few recommendations:
- Buy a Kindle and start reading long, challenging books, like the Classics, in your spare time.
- Turn off your phone for longer and longer periods. And, remove it from your office. Just looking at your phone is a distraction.
- Get someone in your business who can deal with your emails for you. Hire a part-time Virtual Assistant if you need to. Train them to actually respond to simple, basic emails, prioritize (place in a folder in your INBOX) emails for you to deal with later. Give them a means to reach you for emergency emails.
- Push out all your routine, unimportant work to the later part of the day.
- Use your most productive, alert hours for working ON your business – developing systems and strategies, and ideas. (This would be morning for most of us).
- Practice prayer/meditation for blocks of time to help still the monkey-mind.
Have a very Merry Christmas, and remember to start this now to see how a focussed 2019 compares to 2018…