Most of us are doing multiple different tasks every day. We switch from dropping off children to checking and answering emails, attending a client call followed by a sales call, catching up with colleagues, answering questions, folding washing, making dinner, helping with homework.
Each of these tasks requires a completely different skill set and type of mental focus – and between each task there’s a moment of transition. You have to take the time to regroup, open a new folder, open a new document, maybe switch locations, figure out where you left off on the task, and start working once again.
Every time we transition from task to task like this, we lose energy and time.
The graph above demonstrates the cumulative impact of distractions, based on a study from the University of California, Irvine. Each red point represents the escalating loss of focus time due to a single distraction every hour.
Over a typical 8-hour day, just one distraction an hour means that you lose just over 3 hours of focused productive time. Over 52 weeks, you could be losing 1,095 hours of focus time. Scary.
As leaders, understanding and minimising these disruptions is key to enhancing our focus and productivity. It’s also key to avoiding dipping into your emotional overdraft.
Setting clear boundaries isn’t just about saying no, it’s about strategically protecting our most valuable asset – our attention.
Here are a few recommendations for protecting your focus time and minimising distractions:
- Recognise the Cost of Task Switching: Understand that each time you switch tasks, there’s an energy and time cost. This awareness can help prioritise and limit unnecessary transitions.
- Implement Structured Schedules: Allocate specific time slots for different types of work. This can include dedicated periods for emails, meetings, and creative work, which helps to minimise the frequency of task switching.
- Establish Clear Boundaries: Set clear rules for when you are available and when you are not. This might involve having specific hours for meetings or setting your status to ‘Do Not Disturb’ during deep work sessions.
- Leverage Technology Wisely: Use tools and apps that help in minimising distractions. This can include email filters, notification management, and apps that block social media during work hours.
- Prioritise and Delegate: Focus on high-value tasks that align with your goals and delegate others when possible. This helps in maintaining focus on tasks that require your unique skill set and leadership.
- Cultivate Deep Work Habits: Carve out uninterrupted time for deep, focused work. This might mean working in a quiet space, turning off notifications, or working during hours when distractions are minimal.
- Encourage Breaks and Downtime: Acknowledge the importance of breaks for mental rejuvenation. Short, regular breaks can help in maintaining overall focus and productivity throughout the day.
- Lead by Example: Set a precedent in your team or organisation by practising and valuing focused work. Your behaviour can influence the work culture and help others understand the importance of minimising distractions.
- Regularly Review and Adjust: Periodically assess how effective your strategies are in minimising distractions and adjust as needed. This can involve seeking feedback from colleagues or reflecting on your productivity levels.
- Educate Your Team: Share the importance of minimising distractions with your team. Encourage them to adopt similar practices to enhance overall productivity and focus within the team.
This is your reminder to minimise distractions when you can, set aside deep focus time.