As I sat down to write just now, I was completely distracted by so many noises; my phone started ringing, the heater in my house kicked on, UPS rang the door with a delivery, my neighbor’s gardener came by with the loudest leaf blower imaginable, which caused neighborhood dogs to start barking. I seriously wondered how I would be able to accomplish writing an article.
And then, miraculously, all of the noises stopped at exactly the same time. Complete quiet. Complete stillness. All that I hear right now is the sound of my fingers hitting the keys to create the words that you are now reading.
I should be happy, right? I wished for silence, and that wish was granted. So why am I feeling so unsettled now? Why do I want to quickly open up Facebook just to see if someone (anyone!) has posted a new status update? Why am I suddenly fighting the urge to watch funny dancing baby videos on YouTube? Why am I hoping that my inbox will notify me of a new message? Am I now addicted to these distractions?
While life has never been free of distraction, never have they been so voluminous, so overwhelming, so intense, so persistent as they are now. Ringing phones are one thing, but email notifications, Twitter and Facebook messages, an array of open browser tabs, and cell phones that are always on are quite another story. More and more, we are up to our necks in a constant stream of information, we are in the middle of a battle for our attention, and we are engaged in a blur of multitasking activity.
We have distractions coming from every direction. In front of us is the computer, with email notifications and other notifications of all kinds. Then there’s the addicting lure of the browser, which contains not only an endless amount of reading material, but unlimited opportunities for shopping, chatting, gossip and news and so much more. All the while, several new emails have come in, waiting for a quick response. 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.
All of us understand that the fundamental principles of productivity are that in order to get things done, you have to focus. That’s all easier said than done, I know. That necessary focus requires that you eliminate as many distractions as possible — which is not always an easy task for me. So here’s my experiment in minimizing the distractions so that I could get my task at hand completed.
Clear workspace clutter. For me, visual clutter is distracting, so I cleared my desk completely. Here’s how to do it; put all your papers on your desk (and on the floor around you) in your inbox. I recently bought three matching baskets at Cost Plus to sit on my back file drawers: 1) file 2) projects 3) action/to-do. Sort through rest of the pile of papers for trash, or do it now if it takes 2 minutes or less. Try to do this once a day to keep your desk clear.
Clear computer clutter. I’m notorious for having multiple windows and documents open on the computer, so I created a folder on my desktop called “To Do” to sort out later. I closed all unnecessary programs, turned off any notifications and other distractions, leaving open only the program that I needed for this task.
Turn off email notifications. This was the hardest for me. It meant closing Outlook and turning off my smart phone. While I realized that instant communication is great, when you’re working on a task, they are nothing but interruptions.
On a personal note, in spite of being tempted, I’m proud of myself for sticking with this article and not allowing myself to be distracted by checking Facebook or emails while writing it. Breaking the habit wasn’t easy, but I simply worked through my inner urges.
Let me also say that there should be room in your life for distractions. Being in the travel business should be fun, and without a few distractions, things can get boring. That being said, when it’s time to do a task, I understand that there is no reason to do it while handling a million other things. When you’re ready to work on a task, block out all else, and really focus on it. Do your best, and get it done as quickly as possible. Then reward yourself with distractions.
Anita Pagliasso is the author of “How I Made A Small Fortune as a Home-Based Travel Agent” “From Home-Based to POWERHOUSE” and “Anita’s Toolbox for Home-Based Agents CD” (www.redticketproductions.com), President, Host Agency Ticket To Travel (www.travelagentathome.com), Travel Agent Forum Conference Director, and PATH President & Executive Board Member