Cure Your Information Addiction
Need to have constant access to news?
Crave being the first to share gossip?
Get a feeling of satisfaction from knowing more than others?
Then – you may be addicted to Information!
I challenge you to read this article all the way to the end, without stopping to respond to an sms, check your email inbox or being distracted by the Google alert you set up to track mentions of your name.
If it sounds easy, and you find it simple to ignore electronic temptation, great. You probably don’t even need to read on. For most of us, however, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep our focus for more than a few moments, largely because we just can’t resist the gadgets that were supposed to make us more productive but are now helping to turn some of us into e-addicts.
Research commissioned by harmon.ie, a social email software provider, reveals that nearly half of us are interrupted by electronic distractions every 15 minutes. As a result, a third of us have trouble getting our work done and a quarter can’t think creatively about our work, which means that our productivity aids may be doing more harm than good.
The constant delivery of information, and our need to respond to it, has even earned its own medical moniker: on-line compulsive disorder, an addiction to web-based activity. Dr Edward Hallowell, psychiatrist and author of Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and about to Snap!, has identified a condition he calls attention deficit trait, a workplace-based relation of attention deficit disorder. He has outlined the main symptoms as distractibility, restlessness and impulsive decision-making (driven by simply having too many tasks to do).
Dr Hallowell is also credited with coining the term ‘frazzing’, which refers to frantic, inefficient, multitasking. Sound familiar? Need Help? Here are just a few interventions that anyone can action.
Dealing with Distractions
Shut down – The harmon.ie report says half of us go to bed connected. Setting aside what this means for our marriages, consider our mental health. Unless it’s a professional necessity, switch off - focus on family and friends once you close your own front door behind you at the end of the day.
Clear the decks – Something we are actively ignoring (an email we’d rather not deal with or an unpleasant task) can steal attention from the activities we choose to do. Vaporise the Elephant stomping around your head to make mental space for other tasks.
Take two – Take social interruptions out of the equation by using separate devices for personal business and real business.
Time change – If your office is routinely quiet at a certain time of the day, consider changing your work habits or even your working hours to take advantage of the quiet times when you won’t be disturbed.
Use cures – If interruptions are inevitable, writing a one or two-word mental “placeholder” on a Post-it ® note when you leave one task for another is an easy way to snap yourself back into the task when you return to it.
Keep tabs – Track how well you keep your focus by jotting down each task when you sit down to it, and then logging interruptions and distractions that got in the way (be honest!). This will give you a view of what keeps you from being productive so you can tackle the offenders.
Take a break – Conterintuitive? Not really. It’s easy to reach overload on a project if you are giving it your full attention. Allow yourself a break to recharge, maybe even to check your email, but set a limit so you quickly get back on track.
Work together – When you sit down and share a task with a colleague you get the benefits of constant feedback face-to-face instead of on-line, and can stand a better chance of staying on-message.
Have respect – As a manager, create an atmosphere in which people allow others to focus by respecting time they take on a task. That means assigning them hours, days even, where they are allowed to give the task their full attention and are interrupted only in emergencies.
Extreme measures – Leechblock is a Firefox browser add-on that lets you block or limit access to websites that you just can’t resist. Choose your access limit by day, hour or minute. It also reports your usage so you can identify online bad habits. For Google Chrome users, StayFocused offers a similar service.
Did you beat the challenge?
Help is available through CMI checklists. Handling Information – Avoiding Overload (number 150) and Managing Your Time Effectively (number 016) are a start. Or from the CMI library, borrow The Activity Illusion by Ian Price, which considers our unbalanced relationship with technology and has some other solutions. Go to www.managers.org.uk/mdirect
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