In a 2009 National Public Radio interview, Dr. Clifford Nass, who was a noted Stanford educator, harshly referred to multitaskers as "suckers for distraction and suckers for the irrelevant." He was referring largely to students under the control of their digital devices, but it applies to the business world as well, because multitasking does not increase productivity; it reduces it.
Where multitasking was once considered an essential skill for anyone pursuing advancement in the business world, newer research asserts that the human brain best handles one thing at a time. Unfortunately, most workers are faced with constant interruptions on a daily basis and every digital advance makes matters worse. With a little common sense and dedication, you can take control over digital distractions. Here are five habits to start developing today.
1. Use Personal Peak Times Effectively
Your brain is still more powerful than any electronic device — provided that you schedule your day based on its ebbs and flows.
For example, as a general rule, high-thought level work is best handled in the period from late morning to midday due to body changes after awakening. This is the time to turn off any unnecessary devices and allow your brain to handle high-level tasks, such as creating presentations or analyzing financial reports. Between about noon and 4pm, distractions take hold of the brain more easily, so it makes sense to hold off on emails, texts and any other unessential digital interruptions until this time.
Of course, not everyone follows the same circadian rhythm. You need to monitor your own patterns to determine when to put all unnecessary devices away and when to allow distractions.
2. Exercise Device Control
Just about everyone in the working world has a PC. Most have smart phones and an increasing number of workers have tablets, as well. But, how many of these devices pertain strictly to business?
Electronic devices make it easy to take your work home with you, but they also let you bring your home life into the office. Granted, this is only fair if you want any form of work-life balance. But, if you want your work quality to be high, you need to avoid the temptation of personal distractions whenever possible. Keep work-related devices active while on the job and schedule appropriate time into your day for device-checking and social media updates.
3. Choose the Right Device for the Task
Just because you can browse the web from your smart phone, doesn't make it the right tool for remaining on-task. Jumping from window to window on a three-inch screen or being forced to close an app when you run out of memory are other types of distractions. Don't be fooled into thinking that a phone in the hand will save valuable time. Even if you have to walk over to your PC or tablet, you will save time and focus by having the power and screen size to properly perform the job at hand.
4. Put Web Site Distractions Off to the Side
Speaking of distractions, every web page seems to have a million links. It's just about impossible to avoid clicking tempting web page links, but a great way to forget what you're doing is to jump from link to link. So, open those links in a new tab or window, and immediately return to the original page to maintain your primary flow. Once you finish with the present page, the distraction will be there when you want it — if you haven't lost interest.
5. Placemark the Original Task
How much time do you spend back-tracking when you return to a previously-interrupted task? You cannot avoid important customer calls, but you can get in the habit of marking your place before you start talking. So, if the phone rings while you are mid-sentence in a report or adding up numbers in a column, ask the caller to hold on for just a moment. Finish that sentence, or at least jot down a quick note describing where you left off. Don't worry — the interrupter will understand.
Only the Cream of Interruptions Should Rise to the Top
Scheduling interruptions is a lofty goal, but no one — from office workers to top brass — is immune from someone waiting in the wings to disrupt that schedule. Interruptions may be unavoidable, but they also short change the people who need your help. Not every interruption ranks priority one. Power off unnecessary devices and take a critical look at remaining interruptions to give top-notch service to your customers and your company.