Living with Distraction: 3 Ways to Boost Productivity (and Happiness)

(By Alli Worthington)

You may think you may be good at simultaneously taking that phone call and answering e-mails, but invariably one of the two suffers. That’s why using a handheld phone while driving is outlawed for many states; some states even make it illegal to use a phone at all while operating a vehicle. One or the other is falling into second place. In fact, if you’re juggling a half-dozen tasks, your priority may be falling into third, fourth, fifth, or sixth place.

It feels great to knock off five things from your to-do list at once, doesn’t it?

Multitasking just seems to be a way of life these days. However, studies show that people aren’t as efficient at concentrating on more than one thing at a time as they’d like to believe.

You may think you may be good at simultaneously taking that phone call and answering e-mails, but invariably one of the two suffers. That’s why using a handheld phone while driving is outlawed for many states; some states even make it illegal to use a phone at all while operating a vehicle. One or the other is falling into second place. In fact, if you’re juggling a half-dozen tasks, your priority may be falling into third, fourth, fifth, or sixth place.

Yet in today’s world, it seems next to impossible to have only one thing going on at any given moment. At the same time that we’re doing laundry and walking the dog, cell phones are pinging us, calendar alerts and status updates are reminding us of deadlines, and dozens of Internet games with friends await our attention. Distraction is everywhere.

So how to resist the temptation to attend to more than one thing at a time? With the following three steps, and some advance planning, you’ll be on your way to increased productivity:

1. Develop a work flow to stay organized.

This is the key, and the most time consuming in the process. Think through your work system and the key steps that you need to take to accomplish your tasks. It helps to write this down; better yet, create a graphic version of your work flow with software such as Microsoft Visio. This exercise will help you set priorities, improve your process, and realize what you don’t need to be doing at all. Organizing your working methods helps optimize your process and focus.

2. Set limits for yourself.

When you’re in the middle of a task, it’s tempting to pause to check your e-mail or make a quick phone call. Don’t do it! It’s best to set rules and boundaries for yourself so that you don’t cave in to temptation. For example, if it is feasible, check your e-mail only twice a day, at the beginning and then end of your workday. Turn off your phone during key tasks to avoid disruption. By setting limits and defining your work time, you’re less likely to find yourself distracted and losing productivity.

3. Schedule some non-screen downtime.

Plan for a couple of breaks in your day for nonessential undertakings that are relaxing and don’t include a computer, cell phone, or tablet. Take a walk in the park, a trip to the coffee shop, or a few minutes for stretching. Reconnect with yourself by ditching technology a couple of times per day; it’s surprisingly liberating. A recent study in Cognition Journal found that small breaks from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task. You’ll return to work revitalized and refreshed.

Don’t be tempted to be a master at multitasking. You’ll likely boost your productivity as well as increase your overall sense of happiness.

(Source: Citibank)

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