“You sit down at the computer, and you swear you’ll be productive. Next thing you know, it’s twelve hours later. You’ve checked your email, updated your Facebook status, browsed the trending topics on Twitter, read your RSS feeds, looked up your favourite band on Wikipedia, vanity Googled yourself, cyber-stalked your ex, looked at all your high-school crushes’ Facebook photos, and lost a week’s pay playing online poker. What you HAVEN’T done is WORK.”
This is how Warren Benedetto, developer of ‘StayFocused’ – sees our world as we know it and subsequently saw a need to help us by giving us a distraction blocking app. StayFocusd is a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites. Once your allotted time has been used up, the sites you have blocked will be inaccessible for the rest of the day.
Today there is an app for everything, but who could have predicted that we would need help using a distraction blocking app?
We love speed and expect more and more as we evolve. Remember the days of rotary dialling, when it took forever to make a call from Port of Spain to San Fernando? Probably not. Perhaps you might remember dial up connections and how slow browsers loaded. Now if a browser takes a couple more seconds than usual to load we are furious. “Come on” we think “I can’t afford to waste time…LOAD!”
The thing is that speed makes focus difficult. Something or someone is always demanding your attention. If you’re not careful, you can end up paying what Linda Stone, a former Microsoft executive called “continuous partial attention” to EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. This is bad for business.
Technology initially gave us ways and means to do things better, faster, more efficiently. We loved our techno gadgets. When I first started to use the computer I learned the Disk Operating System or DOS. To operate Excel I had to learn formulas. Then came Windows and with one click – you had instant results.
Now what was small and manageable is now huge, ubiquitous and dare I say – unmanageable. Because if we were to face the truth: how well are we managing? In their book ‘Married to Distraction’ Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and Sue George Hallowell, LICSW, suggests that the force of distraction pulls on us now as powerfully as gravity. They’ve also presented another face to this ever growing force:
“Modern life has turned people ruder than ever, less inclined to feel sympathy for another person, more self-centred and less emotionally available, more data-driven, less aware of their emotional selves, more irritable, less able to relax and listen, more aggressive, less flexible and in general more difficult to connect with comfortably. Unless we’re wise to what’s going on, we can become a grumpy group of busy people, full of road rage even when not on the road, ready to judge even when we know none of the facts, sitting on a ton of anger and frustration, whose source eludes us and that we don’t know how to make subside.”
The title of this column is something I heard Darren Hardy, Publisher of Success Magazine say during an interview on one of the Success audio CDs that comes free with the magazine. He got my attention. I can’t even remember WHO he was interviewing but when he made this statement, I was paying full attention. And I agree with him 300%.
I couldn’t really articulate exactly WHAT I was feeling until I read what the Hallowell’s had to say about the force of distraction. I was finding that I was becoming more and more irritable, and inclined to be aggressive in situations that really didn’t warrant all that angst…when did I become this person?
We are getting more and more ornery, less and less productive and mentally worn out yet it seems that we don’t know how to stop. Apps can only be so helpful. Look at what Gisela Kottmeier had to say in a review about StayFocused “Great idea! Only problem I have is that incognito windows aren’t blocked so i just go on there instead.”
We need to slay the distraction dragon using strategies that make us powerful. Rather than using our own power more wisely we give that power over to distraction – blocking apps. In the short term it might work but it’s an app we’re talking about so eventually we get to the point where we want to take back control and so we find ways to regain our power by outsmarting the application.
Nadia Goodman Contributing Writer, for Entrepreneur.com who covers the psychology of entrepreneurship and innovation in her bi-weekly column shares these 3 tips in helping us return to focus and productivity:
1. Do creative work first. Typically, we do mindless work first and build up to the toughest tasks. That drains your energy and lowers your focus. In order to focus effectively, reverse the order. Check off the tasks that require creativity or concentration first thing in the morning, and then move on to easier work, like deleting emails or scheduling meetings, later in the day.
2. Allocate your time deliberately. By studying thousands of people, David Rock co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work (HarperCollins, 2009), found that we are truly focused for an average of only six hours per week. “You want to be really diligent with what you put into those hours,” he says.
Most people focus best in the morning or late at night, and Rock’s studies show that 90 percent of people do their best thinking outside the office. Notice where and when you focus best, then allocate your toughest tasks for those moments.
3. Train your mind like a muscle. When multitasking is the norm, your brain quickly adapts. You lose the ability to focus as distraction becomes a habit. “We’ve trained our brains to be unfocused,” Rock says. Practice concentration by turning off all distractions and committing your attention to a single task. Start small, maybe five minutes per day, and work up to larger chunks of time. If you find your mind wandering, just return to the task at hand. “It’s just like getting fit,” Rock says. “You have to build the muscle to be focused.”
If you’re thinking that you don’t have time for this then consider this hard and fast Law of Modern Life: If you do not TAKE your time, it WILL be TAKEN from you. If you do not insist on MAKING time for what matters, you will not DO what matters. If you do not insist on MAKING time for the business that you claim to want to improve – you will lose it.