Beating the distraction devil: How to optimise performance by staying focused

By Anthony Hersch|20 June 2019
Anthony Hersch

If the devil is in the detail, then distraction is not that far behind, writes Anthony Hersch.

In an increasingly resource-drained, ever-evolving climate, giving 120 per cent is more the expectation than the exception.

The natural default is to multitask, which is well accepted as a curly beast that makes us less effective.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, “You Can’t Multitask, So Stop Trying”, multitasking significantly affects long-term memory, creativity and efficiency — which can drop by as much as 40 per cent.

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While we may think we’re multitasking, we’re instead switching tasks whereby the brain chooses which information to process. For example, if you listen to speech, your visual cortex becomes less active, so when you talk on the phone to a client and work on your computer at the same time, you literally hear less of what the client is saying.

So, why do we try? We’re wired to respond to messaging. As a result, every communication is subconsciously deemed important, which is amplified by constantly craving further information.

Consider these tips to beat distraction and become more productive, according to an article titled “12 Common Workplace Distractions and How You Can Stay Focused Anyway”:

1. Treat distraction as an addiction. Force yourself to focus on one task at a time and resist the temptation to become distracted.

2. Implement tactics that minimise distraction. For example:

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  • Consider video calls versus phone calls to minimise the lure of emailing whilst on the phone.
  • Hold meetings in an enclosed room rather than offsite or in an open-plan office to limit exposure to other people/conversations.
  • Turn off your phone whilst doing emails.
  • Make listening a priority (rather than thinking of what your response is).

3. Make an effort to do one task at a time. Make it a goal to stick with the one item until completion, then give the new task your full attention.

4. Address FOMO. Admit that not all information is useful. Be brutal about what new data you seek, and when. Consider limiting non-essential communications to your lunch break or commute (particularly social media).

5. Spare your senses, particularly noise. While inevitable, background noise is a constant distraction. Limit your sensory exposure through noise cancelling headphones, plug into noise cancelling apps or listen to classical music to improve your focus.

6. Reduce exposure to people. Place yourself in environments that limit “shoulder tapping” and make sure that co-workers understand that cues, such as wearing headphones, equal “do not disturb”.

7. Clear the clutter. A chaotic workspace affects your ability to focus and process information. It’s dull, but be as paperless as possible and keep your space clean and organised.

8. Rein in micro-management. Being a “helicopter” manager doesn’t positively contribute to anyone’s productivity. Trust your team to do their tasks and be conscious of stifling growth with unnecessary interference. Conversely, encourage task ownership and accountability.

9. Reassess meetings. Meetings are notorious for being unproductive and distracting time suckers. Only meet when necessary, invite only the critical stakeholders, create an agenda and keep the meeting as short as possible. Also consider alternative project management tools, such as Slack or Trello.

10. Be aware of decision fatigue. It’s extremely difficult to concentrate if you’re mentally exhausted. Be aware of your natural biological rhythms and prioritise key decision-making in peak performance periods (i.e. if you’re a morning person, it’s unlikely that you’ll be in your sharpest state to make a decision in the evening).

Anthony Hersch is the chief operating officer of JustKapital.

Beating the distraction devil: How to optimise performance by staying focused
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