Ringing phones are one thing, but email notifications, Twitter and Facebook messages, an array of browser tabs open, and mobile devices that are always on and always beeping are quite another.
Today, as we're working, we have distractions coming from various angles. In front of us our computer, with email notifications and other notifications of all kinds. There's the browser, which contains not only an endless amount of reading material, unlimited opportunities for shopping, for chatting, for gossip and news, photos and so much more. All the while, several new emails have come in, waiting for a quick response. Several programs are open at once, each of them with tasks to complete. Several people would like to chat, dividing our attention even further.
That's in front of you. Now, we get to the desk phone, mobile, music from several different coworkers, a colleague coming to our desk asking a question, incoming papers needing attention, other papers scattered across our desks, someone calling a meeting, another offering up food. With so much competing for our attention, and so little time to focus on real work, it’s a wonder we get anything done at all.
And then we leave work we have our mobile device, with incoming text and email messages, all needing a reply, with incoming calls that can’t be ignored.. We are bombarded from all sides by advertising, asking for not only attention but our desires. We get home, and there’s the television with 500 channels all asking for yet more attention, with 500,000 ads asking for yet more desires. There’s our PC asking us to do more work, sending us more messages, more distractions, social networks and shopping and reading. There are kids or spouses or roommates or friends, there’s the home phone, and still the mobile device is going off. This is unprecedented, and it’s alarming.
There’s instant positive feedback to such constant activities as checking email, surfing the web, checking social networks such as blogs, forums, Twitter and Facebook. That’s why it’s so easy to become addicted to being connected and distracted. It's important to note that other addictive activities, such as doing drugs or eating junk food, have the same kind of instant positive feedback!!
You do the activity, and right away, you’re rewarded with something pleasurable but don’t feel the negative consequences until much later. You check your email and look! a new email from a friend! You get a positive feeling, perhaps a validation of your self-worth when you receive a new email. It feels good to get a message from someone. And thus the instant positive feedback rewards you checking email, more and more frequently, until the addiction is solidly ingrained.
Being connected, getting information all the time, having constant distractions … it has all become a part of our lives.
Everyone's fighting for your focus, and so many "things" want your attention. But time is a non-renewable resource. I've mentioned it time and time again (especially on Twitter you can follow #leadwhereyouare). You get 86,400 seconds every single day to your benefit and you can either use them wisely or they will be gone forever. Your attention is valuable, don’t be so generous in giving it to things – unless it’s for something that truly matters.
So clean out the distractions in your workspace and personal life. I read that special forces on a military mission are kept in isolation from other teams and denied access to TV/Newspapers/Internet. Why? To PROTECT their focus so they deliver perfection on their mission. Pretty great metaphor for you and I, no? A huge competitive advantage falls to the 1 in 100 performer with the brilliance to develop the skill of becoming massively focused on the one thing in front of them. Truly a game-changing move.
A valuable tactic is developing rituals and methods of work that fit in your lifestyle. Obsess in consistency in the way you do things, waking up at a certain hour, doing the things in patterns that are clear. This clears your mind to leave more energy and space to things worthy of your thoughts. Practice doing work that matters while sitting in one place for many hours focused on a single result (without possible distractions). Practice disconnecting at specific moments each day and give yourself some time to fill up your well. Practice running rituals and elite performance routines that will lift you into the realm of world-class. Because as I know you know: Genius isn’t so much about genetics as it is about work ethic and sheer practice. You were born at level genius, why not prove it?