I’m having a hard time getting this blog post written today. You see, today is the first day of the NHL hockey season and I’m watching a game, checking Twitter, skimming blogs, and all manner of hockey fan nerdery. I’m glad the season is finally underway, but now I’ve got a lot to be distracted by.
Here are some posts about distractions, how they affect us, and how to manage them:
That buzzing phone in your pocket may not seem like a huge distraction, but all those small nudges add up to a pretty big cognitive load. This study of 300 people showed that interruptions of no more than 3 seconds double the error rate on a series of cognitive tests. That’s about the time it takes to check your phone to see if that beep you just heard was a text message, Twitter mention, or an new email. That gets pretty scary when you think about all the critical jobs that people do under such conditions. Our advice, ditch the notifications.
Sometimes, however, distraction isn’t such a bad thing. It’s possible to “positively procrastinate”, at least according to some researchers. Generally speaking, procrastinators aren’t lazy, just distracted. In fact, one of the principles investigated is: “anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” If you accept that and stop trying to fight it, you can learn to play your tasks against each other and work on one meaningful task when you’re supposed to be working on another. Or, a quick hack to focus on your primary task is the “nothing alternative”, which only has two rules: 1. You don’t have to work on your task. 2. You’re not allowed to do anything else.
TED TALK – Paolo Cardini: Forget multitasking, try monotasking
It’s hard not to get distracted these days when there are so many different signals competing for our attention. This short TED talk by Paolo Cardini takes an interesting approach for blocking out distractions. Special phone covers that will downgrade your phone into “monotask” mode, where you can only perform a single function.
One of the problems with distractions is the time it takes to get back on track once you return to your original task. It’s disorienting bouncing from one thing or another. This applies to small things, like bouncing back and for the between writing this post and watching the hockey game, or larger projects, like switching between long-term projects at work. Here are some ideas about how to smooth the transitions between projects to maintain a sense of flow.
A study of more than 1,000 Facebook users showed that browsing Facebook negatively impacts self-control. Participants who spent time on Facebook where more likely to choose cookies over granola bars (yum!), and give up sooner on cognitive tests. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Somewhat buried in the headline was the observation that sharing content with your close social circle also boosts self-esteem.
Email is one of the hardest distractions to deal with. It arrives randomly, you never know if it’s going to be important or not, and it’s the default way that everyone communicates. So it’s not like you can just cut it all out, right? Right? Apparently, you can. Here’s an account of one productivity specialist’s switch to a “No email” workstyle. Moving communications away from email and into more specialized applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, and and Basecamp initially seems like it could just make matters worse by increasing the number of places you have to go to keep up with incoming information. But it seems to work, and I think it’s an idea that could use a lot more examination, especially considering that email tends to take up around 30% of the average worker’s time.