You know the kind of day….full of interruptions, never getting what you need done, bitty tasks, screens open, quick chats, emails achieving very little, more coming in than seems to be going out, serving others rather than knocking something chunky off the list.
Then do you know that feeling when you’ve not stopped but you don’t feel any better either? Perhaps ending the day dissatisfied because there’s no sense of achievement – and, secretly or not – annoyed with yourself for not cracking on with the most important task to hand.
I watched an office manager for a few moments the other day – draped over a laptop in sheer concentration as I waited at her desk for her attention. It felt bad to interrupt her. When she noticed me, she apologised for not realising I was there. She seems efficient and super-competent. I wondered how frustrated she gets at so little concentration time to give attention to detail, whilst helping people like me.
And unless you’re in a reactive role such as customer service, many of us have more control over our interruptions than that, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. And here’s the rub: It’s probably our own fault.
Interruption or distraction?
We can be rubbish at controlling interruptions – or thinking we can’t. We like distractions. Pinging, screens, bleeping, alarms, calls, coffee-making, a quick chat in the doorway… Hours of zero-progress-towards-anything-remarkable-or-tangible build up against us. And the big tasks we’ve yet to start loom larger.
Not many of us work at a constant full pelt, but many of us do slug our way through the day avoiding the harder jobs.
It’s so simple – we need to do things backwards. Big to small.Start with the heavy things, the things that need full attention and concentration, that demand discipline to avoid distraction and commitment to keep going.
So how can we avoid feeling as if we’re getting nowhere?
Be honest with ourselves about letting ourselves get distracted
Recognise why the task hasn’t been done yet and what we’re scared of (e.g. failing, not finishing, making a decision)
Identify who or what is the most frequent distraction and, even for a short time, move away from it
If we don’t want to do something we probably won’t
We can put something off until there’s not enough time to complete the job any more. Then it becomes a bigger, more urgent or shared task. But we’re not likely to admit it’s our fault that we’re firefighting now, instead blaming all those interruptions we couldn’t possibly help.
The juggling we do – some of it is due to multiple demands – but are we so used to it we enjoy the variety at the cost of greater achievement that can’t accumulate from ‘bits’? Then, do we play down personal responsibility and blame the causes of distractions, even the non-human ones?
Who controls our concentration?
This may not be what you do. At all. But if frustration bites often, is it worth asking the question whether, if we stopped pleasing people, stopped being titillated by a shiny, blinking new button that says ‘open me’, stopped listening-in or being drawn into conversations of no real value, could we just get on with it?
Are we really constantly, unreasonably interrupted such that we have no control over our concentration time where we create, decide and produce? Or are we hiding behind our own excuses?
Is the magic answer simply discipline?
For me, day-to-day I realise it is. Perhaps I’m not even prioritising a fix or solution which could help speed up my every day. I can be an idiot.