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How to Overcome Your (Checks Email) Distraction Habit

We are constantly shifting our attention, which leaves a trail of scattered thoughts and partly done tasks in its wake. This is a recipe for burnout because progress it what drives us.

Georgetown professor Cal Newport defines “deep work” as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” He says that the benefit is that “it allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.”

The path to improved productivity lies not in “time management,” but in attention management, and three easy things can be done to take advantage of the principle of activation energy.

- The first step is awareness because it’s hard to change a habit you don’t realize you have. Every time you find yourself switching away from a task without an intentional stopping point, note it on a piece of paper.

- Then think about what caused you to be distracted and jot that down, too. Once you become aware of the cues, you can find ways to overcome them. Record these ideas and identify opportunities to try them out, then note whether or not they were successful. Over time, you will begin to understand what works and what does not in your unique situation.

- A third way to kick the habit of distraction is the principle of “activation energy.” Make it easier to engage in more productive attention-management habits. For example, to get started on those thoughtful, important tasks that might otherwise seem difficult, break them down and get specific to make everything sound fast and easy. The hardest part is getting started.

To read the full HBR article, please click here.

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