Our world is filled with distractions. We often get to the end of a long day and feel frustrated because while we were very busy, we didn’t actually get any of our important tasks completed. We all have the same 24 hours in a day; the ability to manage our attention is what creates a true advantage.
Internal vs. external
It is so easy to blame our environments when we become distracted. Open office floor plans, chatty co-workers, a non-stop flow of email and text messages – there is no denying they all can steal your attention and productivity. But there is another form of distraction that we often don’t acknowledge.
Our minds are swirling with all the things we need to get done, similar to snow globes that continue to shake all day long. The snow is constantly swirling, which makes it hard to see clearly and stay focused. How often do we recognize the swirling and take a minute to just let the snow settle?
The stress of trying to remember and prioritize all of the things swirling in our heads can be exhausting. We can only retain a few pieces of information at a time in our short-term memory – which is obvious if you’ve ever stared blankly in a grocery store trying to recall what you needed. Trying to remember everything that has to get done in a day – not to mention figure out which one should be done next – will quickly deplete our mental energy.
One of the best ways to get your brain to settle is to dump everything out. Grab a pen, spreadsheet, digital notepad, napkin – whatever works for you – and begin dumping. Everything. Pick up dog food, send mom’s birthday card, develop a marketing strategy, call the plumber, run payroll. Whatever is swirling through your head needs to come out in order for you to finally take a deep breath and figure out where to start. You may be surprised to find there are really just a few things that are actually driving you crazy, and deciding where to start is what gets you out of neutral.
Close the virtual door
Most of us have gotten to the point where we had to close the door to a room or office so we could get work done. But how often do we close the virtual door? Our devices are rarely more than a few feet away, and they are constantly disrupting our attention with various noises and notifications. Our computer screens are filled with incoming mail, chat messages, open projects and various tabs on our browsers. Even if we don’t pick up the device or check the inbox and chat messages, just knowing something has been received due to the noise or vibration can steal our ability to be 100% focused.
Can you give yourself permission to ignore the distractions, even if only for 15-30 minutes at a time? If you could carve out a few minutes each day without any distractions at all, how quickly could you knock out those important activities that seem to take all day when you try to squeeze them into the cracks of a busy calendar, or when you ‘just take a second’ to check your devices every time you receive a notification? You may be surprised by how much you can get done.
Our brains need a chance to rest and recharge in order to function effectively. When you feel your mind swirling, try taking just one minute to breathe and let the ‘snow’ settle so you can see your priorities more clearly.