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Information overload? Banish distractions at work

Too many screens, not enough eyes?

These days, distractions at the office are virtually everywhere. (Thinkstock).

Distractions. They’re everywhere: the colleague who stops by your desk to chat, a relentless stream of email, the lure of ever-present smartphones and internet access.

But these distractions can sap productivity and creativity at work, in part because they break concentration and focus. Why do we get so distracted — and is there anything we can do about it? Several LinkedIn Influencers weighed in on the topic this week, explaining how our brains react to distractions, how to cut back on email and how to overcome smartphone addictions.

Daniel Goleman, co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations

“Distractions are the enemy of focus,” wrote Goleman in his post, The Two Biggest Distractions — And What To Do About Them. “The more prone to distraction, the worse we do.”

These days, however, people are inundated by more distractions than ever before, wrote Goleman, who also authored Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence “Tech gadgets and apps invade our concentration in ways the brain’s design never anticipated.”

While people can often ignore sensory distractions, “the brain’s wiring gives preference to our emotional distractions, creating pressing thought loops about whatever’s upsetting us. Our brain wants us to pay attention to what matters to us, like a problem in our relationships,” Goleman wrote.

Critical to overcoming distraction is to designate what Goleman calls “focussed times” in your day. Then, set boundaries around that time. For his part, Goleman wrote, “I don’t look at emails, take phone calls, or otherwise let distractions creep into my focussed time.”

Ilya Pozin, chief executive officer at Open Me

Email may be one of the biggest focus hurdles that professionals face. “There’s no worse feeling than opening your inbox to find hundreds of emails that need your immediate attention,” wrote Pozin in his post, How to Cut Your Email Volume in Half.

So, how can you get back to focussing on the work at hand? Pozin offered seven steps. Among them:

  • Find the culprits of your endless inbox. Take a look at who you’re receiving the most emails from every day, as well as how many emails are being sent directly to you versus being CCed. This will allow you to target a few of your potential problem areas. If you’re using Gmail for your primary email, you can monitor this more easily by using Gmail Meter. And for a better “people-centric” view of your inbox, check out Immersion from MIT.”
  • Politely ask people to reduce their number of emails. Now that you know the names of a few of your inbox-filling culprits, it’s time to have a face-to-face or phone conversation about reducing the emails. You’ll get to the bottom of the problem much faster this way … Set up a call or a meeting to discuss a few alternatives to the number of daily or weekly emails you’re receiving.”
  • Stop using email as your only communication channel. Are you guilty of using email for something that’s more easily managed with another communication channel? Email isn’t the answer to all of your communication needs. If you want to have a quick chat with someone, consider using instant messaging. For more pressing topic, pick up the phone or schedule a video chat.”

Steve Tappin, chief executive officer at Xinfu and founder of WorldofCeos.com

Distractions come in all shapes and sizes — but the drive to be constantly connected might be among the biggest. “Do you find yourself endlessly checking your phone or tablet, perhaps up to 50 to 100 times a day?” asked Tappin in his post, Smartphone & Web Addicted: Ready for Rehab? “After a period of being disconnected, are you desperate to get back online? If this sounds familiar, then there's a good chance you're exhibiting early signs of internet addiction.”

Internet addiction can cause a loss of reality and sense of self, according to new research, wrote Tappin. “The recent explosion in cloud services, and that the fact the messaging, social media, content and apps are now properly usable and integrated as we switch from one digital device to another, means that many of us have reached a tipping point where it is simply too tempting not to be continuously online,” he wrote.

How do you know if you’re addicted — and what can you do if you are? Tappin, who also hosts the  BBC’s CEO Guru programme, offered a number of suggestions and some homework assignments. Among them: a digital detox or digital curfew.

“For many, a 100% ‘digital detox’ is what is required. Maybe take a week off, or take this next weekend off and completely disconnect to do a detox,” he wrote. “Resolve to turn off or not use all that is ‘smart’ about your phone, put tablets away and then build up a great weekend of real-world activities with family and friends. Turn off wi-fi and data connections and only use your phone in its basic sense for making calls.”

A curfew of sorts may be an easier starting point, Tappin wrote. “Plan to limit or restrict your connectivity to certain set times. For this, there are some powerful new software tools that you can install on your computer, including Freedom, Anti-Social and SelfControl, which block out parts or the whole of the internet for set blocks of time,” he wrote.

“Consider turning off, or finding the right balance for, push notifications and alerts, so you don’t get interrupted or tempted too much.”

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