But there’s something even more disturbing about this. One of the studies found that those same gadgets might also be lowering our IQs; participants who were constantly interrupted by technology scored 20 percent lower on a standard cognition test. The second study found that many students, even those trying their hardest to be on their “best behavior,” could only concentrate on their homework for a maximum of 2 minutes without stopping to read or send a text or use some other form of social media.
Then, there’s the office. While technology is certainly not the only distraction we face in the workplace, it could be the most pervasive. Research at the University of California found that typical office workers get only 11 continuous minutes of work on any given task before they allow themselves to be interrupted, usually by some type of technology. In addition to the distractions of technology, there is the plaguing issue of multitasking.
While most of us think we are very good at multitasking—and are largely very proud of that fact—scientists give it a big thumbs down, believing that only the very simplest of tasks are good candidates for multitasking. Everything else generally suffers when we multitask.
Given all of the ways our productivity is derailed, how can we stay on task throughout our busy days?
Stopping Distractions in Their Tracks
Fortunately, scattered workers and tech-centric students can use a few simple routines and techniques to keep their productivity tops throughout the day. Here’s where to start:
- Each night, take a few minutes to make a paper list. Write down the three most important things you want to accomplish the next day, placing them in order of priority. The act of using a pen and paper actually helps you keep them in your mind (rather than using a computer or your phone to make the list). Following a clear schedule makes it much easier to stay on task.
- Give yourself deadlines. When making your lists and prioritizing those lists, give yourself a deadline for each task. This can keep you from procrastinating and throwing off your entire day’s work.
- Prioritize your day by doing the most difficult tasks first. We tend to expend energy putting off difficult tasks, which gives us plenty of time to worry about them. Do the hard things first, while you have the energy and are at your freshest, then the rest of the day is a piece of cake.
- If you typically have a hard time staying on task throughout your work days, consider meditation. Meditation allows you to shut off the chaos in your mind and re-focus. Put your phone in your desk, find a quiet spot, and try clearing your mind for even 10 minutes. Focus on your breathing, and “reset” your mind. There is plenty of good information regarding mediation on the Internet.
- Minimize your distractions. There are apps which will shut off your email and other social media distractions during specified times. One such tool is called Freedom, which locks you out of the Internet for up to 8 hours, while another good one is called, appropriately, SelfControl. This app blocks access to incoming and outgoing mail servers and websites for a pre-determined amount of time. You may be truly surprised to find out how much more you can get done when your Internet connection is cut off—even for an hour or so.
- Whether you are a person who needs absolute quiet to get your work done, or a person who thrives with background noise, do your very best to secure your best atmosphere for getting your work done. If you really need peace and quiet, it can be challenging for you to work in a busy office. Speak to a supervisor about finding a quieter workspace (and be ready to show him/her how ambient noise is hurting your productivity).
- If you feel your energy waning, take a quick break. This doesn’t mean you should pull up Facebook. Take a brisk 15-minute walk, stretch, have a nice cup of tea, or do whatever it takes for you to retreat from the world—just briefly—and regenerate. Your mental focus will be much sharper when you return to your work.
- Try to eat a healthy lunch to avoid afternoon “slump.” Fresh fruits and veggies will keep you from falling asleep at your desk by mid-afternoon. Drink lots of water and try to get up for a few minutes at least once per hour.
- Try to keep your desk or workspace tidy. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to tidy up your workspace. You will be surprised at how much easier it is to come into work the next day and be productive right away.
- Make a point of reminding yourself of your goals—what you are working towards. Visualize your goals—perhaps during your meditation time or while you are walking or stretching.
- Although all of us feel occasionally uninspired at work and face many distractions throughout our days, becoming emotionally invested in our work can help motivate us to keep moving toward a goal—even if that goal is as simple as our next paycheck or a small promotion. Consider the personal, real-life benefits of achieving that goal; these will help keep you motivated.
We all have “off” days, but when those days become more routine than not, it’s time to revisit our habits and motivations. The tools offered in this article will help keep daily tasks on point, and will give you the perspective you need to keep achieving, whatever distractions you may face.
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