Avoiding Those Distractions In Disguise

This is how my column writing used to go: Sit, look at notes from interview, type type type, look at notes, make a call to confirm something, type, read draft, edit, read again, send.

This is how my column writing goes today: Sit, look at notes from interview, check email, look at notes from interview, type, check Twitter, type, check email, check Facebook, type, go to Google to look up information, type, navigate to The New York Times and scan headlines, look at notes, call to confirm something, type, check on-screen “reminders” list, email bank, type type type, make online restaurant reservation, type, edit draft, read again, send.

Whew. Done. Sure, I lost a little time, but look at how much more stuff I got accomplished! Right?

Well, yes. I mean, maybe. I did a lot; I multitasked. That’s good.

And it’s bad.

We live in a world that offers all sorts of cool tools that tempt and bedazzle and make it possible to do everything and anything. We have devices that put sources of information literally at our fingertips. In theory, all those resources make us more productive.

But think about it. How many of those tools are really distractions in disguise?

Look at your workflow, as I recently did. Be honest. Be unsparing in your assessment.

How much time are you losing to interruptions, multitasking and procrastination? How much time does it take to refocus on your task after each cyber side trip? And how much faster do you have to work just to avoid falling hopelessly behind?

In the past, it was fairly easy to pinpoint sources of distraction. Some people listened to music; some people had the TV on. I long ago learned to eliminate the obvious if I had to buckle down and get a job done. Turn off the TV and the radio, mute the phone and I was ready to work.

The Internet has changed that.

It not only has offered countless new and shiny playthings, it’s actually tricked us into believing we need them, that they make us better. I mean, isn’t it better to have your email right there so you don’t miss something important? Isn’t it great to be able to research instantly via Google? Doesn’t it make sense to be able to talk to solve problems or post things on social media while getting your primary job done?

I’ve found I actually have to work faster because of all the interruptions. I have to make up for the lost time. This means that, while it doesn’t take that much longer to write a column or perform some other task, something else is happening – I may be coping with all the distractions, but I’m getting more stressed.

Now, I’m “retired” and work part time in my home. I only can assume that those of you in office jobs have it worse – more interruptions, more multitasking, more pressure to get more things done in the same amount of time.

More stress. More frustration. More burnout.

I found I had to pinpoint the source of my growing stress and use old strategies to remedy it. Quite simply, the answer for me was to cut the distractions by reasserting discipline.

Now, I close the email, mute the phone, resist the urge to check news and Twitter and Facebook. I do not multitask because personal business can wait. I still research online – that’s a valuable modern tool – but try to avoid getting lost in random searches. I shut out the world and focus on the job at hand.

Just like I used to do in the days before tech. It’s old-fashioned, but it works.