Added to this, a ceaseless barrage of email, phone calls and text messages are forcing us to constantly switch tasks and split our attention. According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, modern employees spend 28% of their work week simply checking emails.
Researchers at Harvard University have found that this constant flipping of our attention from one task to another (as often as 500 times per day) is dramatically lowering our productivity and increasing the amount of time it takes to complete projects.
Similar research indicates that multitaskers make more mistakes and are up to 40% slower than people who focus on just one task at a time. Further still, multitasking increases the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, which is why constantly swapping tasks can leave us feeling mentally exhausted.
However, perhaps most startling research in this area comes from a study conducted by the University of London which found that operating in a state of distraction does more than just exhaust, overwhelm and slow us down – it actually makes us dumber.
According to their findings, trying to focus on more than one task at a time has the cognitive impact of reducing our effective IQ.
In order to counteract this constant assault of distractions and interruptions, here are five tips for achieving focus (especially when working on detailed or creative tasks):
- Turn off new message notifications for email, text messages, LinkedIn and Facebook. If you implement this one strategy alone, it will change your work life.
- Close your office door (if you have one) and make it clear you are not to be disturbed unless it’s a genuine emergency
- Switch your mobile phone off; resist your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and remember that the world will not stop spinning if you are uncontactable for a period of time.
- Set aside time in your schedule for intentional thinking. Intel’s 14 000-member software and services group recently piloted a program allowing employees to block out several hours a week for ‘heads down’ work. During these blocks of time, employees aren’t expected to respond to emails or attend meetings — and the results have been amazing. Within the first few months of the program, one employee developed a patent-worthy innovation during ‘heads down’ hours.
- Take control of your email. Put some clear boundaries around your access to email throughout the day. Many of the most productive people I know have developed a habit of opening their email software for only 20 minutes, four times per day. Between these times, they switch on their ‘out of office’ notification advising when they’ll be checking their email next so people know when to expect a response.
Although avoiding distraction and workplace interruptions is more challenging today than ever before, doing so is vital in order to experience the flow-state of productivity and personal momentum.
More than simply preserving our sanity and intelligence, focus is the key ingredient to effectiveness in any meaningful endeavour. In the words of celebrated American author Og Mandino, “It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world”.
Michael McQueen is a 4-time bestselling author and business strategist. Michael’s most recent book Momentum: How to Build it, Keep it, or Get it Back, is a guide to achieving breakthrough growth, unstoppable vitality and sustained success. www.MichaelMcQueen.net
The modern office environment seems almost purpose-built to destroy productivity. It’s the co-worker stopping by your desk with a quick question, the endless meetings and memos, the conversation between colleagues within earshot you simply can’t help but tune into.