In the last post I gave an overview of how distractions decrease performance. Multitasking is really organized distraction and actually decreases performance by 40%. Multi-tasking is only an illusion of increasing productivity. Instead of a full focus on a single task, we attempt to focus on one task and refocus on another (repeatedly). One task is a distraction from the other task. There are plenty of distractions in life without manufacturing them with multi-tasking.
This 3-Step process will structure your journey to focused efforts on the field, at work or at home.
Step One: Identify the distractions and when they happen.Include: who, what, where, when, how. Writing out details is helpful in leading you to solutions.
Step Two: Categorize and prioritize your distractions. Not all distractions are created equal. You’ll want to attack the most persistent and most costly distractions. Categories I like to use are follow the line of control, influence, no control and no influence.
Key: If the distraction is something you do not control then you have to develop specific coping skills for that distraction. It is a waste of time trying to do anything about the distraction itself because you do not control it. Like the weather, stop wasting energy trying to do something about it and spend the time developing coping skills – like reframing (i.e. Instead of I hate running in the rain, reframe to running in the rain is like being a kid again – it’s time to play.)
If you only marginally can influence the distraction then you can choose to take action to minimize the effects of the distraction. If your partner loves playing music at home but it distracts you from balancing the check book; you can ask him/her to use headphones or turn it down. However, if the energy to effect a change in the distraction outweighs the effects of the distraction itself – it’s time to develop a specific coping mechanism that allows you to remain effective and productive at that task in the presence of the distraction. Don’t waste more energy getting into an argument over playing the music. Go to another room and put ear plugs in. [And then get over it! Part of coping is putting it behind you and not dwelling (a distraction in itself).]
The stronger your influence over the distraction the better it is to attempt to exert that influence to decrease the distraction. Take the opportunity to assert yourself. At work, close your door. At home, ask for quiet time. On the field, be a leader and get others into the moment.
If the distraction is within your control, then we have to practice what the very top performers do. Take control, eliminate that distraction and focus on the task at hand.
- Ask for help (influence) from those who can make a difference in decreasing distractions.
- Take action before you need to put your energies into the task at hand. If you are easily visually distracted – clear your work space; focus on a single point, practice controlling your eye gaze (like having blinders on a race horse). Prone to auditory distractions? Two ends of the spectrum can help: soft music in the background or find a quiet place or use ear plugs.
- If it is within your control then stop complaining and do something about it. Shut off your phone and your tablet (or at least put them on silence and in another room or area you cannot see them), close doors, avoid problematic environments.
- Schedule your day to minimize distractions. (Group like activities together such as responding to phone calls, email and texts and do them in blocks of time instead of interrupting tasks all day long.)
- Use short centering or visualization exercises before you start a task. Get into the right mindset for the task. Clear your mind of other to dos.
- Develop pre-performance routines that get you “in the mindset” for the task. Just as in athletics, have all the items necessary to do the task assembled and available. Set the stage to perform your best.
Here’s an effective strategy that can be part of your pre-performance routine. I call it a Wearing Hats or Changing Hats approach. Whatever the task or situation, put on the Hat for that one thing; take on the role and immerse yourself in it and simultaneously put all other hats (roles in life and tasks to do) aside. It is more than just a symbolic gesture. When performed with commitment you take on your new role, the attitude and mindset to be most effective. [i.e.Put on your Athlete Hat when you go to do your workout – put work and life on hold – give your all for that one hour, as an athlete! Put on your PresenterHat before your next presentation. Put on your Problem Solver Hat for that next meeting.]
You do not have to be a victim of distractions. But it does take a concerted effort to do so.