Have you ever been in the middle of a task and all of a sudden, SQUIRREL! You get completely distracted and thrown off track? Unfortunately, it happens to me all the time.
My good friend Maura Thomas recently wrote an amazing book, Personal Productivity Secrets. In it she explains that many of us have gotten to the point where we have self-induced A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder). While it is a real illness (my son Evan has A.D.H.D.), there are times when we bring it on ourselves.
Some symptoms of A.D.D. include:
- Difficulty getting organized
- Chronic procrastination
- Lack of follow-through
- Frequent need for high stimulation
- Impatient or easily frustrated
I don’t know about you, but many of those describe how I feel while working. According to Thomas, part of the challenge is all of the communication tools at our disposal, including email, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, and the countless number of other distractions that we get sucked into on a regular basis.
Thomas explains that the more we jump to check email, or try to grab other information in the middle of a task, the more we need to in order to get our “fix”. After all, that ding in your inbox could be Publisher’s Clearing House telling you you’ve won a million dollars (it generally turns out to be an add for Viagra). The thought of what that incoming message could say pushes us to stop what we’re doing to find out.
When we feel overwhelmed with work, we search for the nearest distraction, and it gets us into trouble.
The book explains that the solution isn’t really time management, its attention management. Thomas gives a plethora (I love that word) of strategies that you can use to better manage your attention and your time.
She suggests turning off your instant email notification, setting aside specific time to check email, writing everything down (on paper or electronically) so you capture all of your thoughts in one place, resisting the urge to multi-task and getting clear on priorities so you don’t work on whatever is easiest at the moment.
So next time you’re tempted to shout “squirrel!” bring yourself back to the task at hand and focus. It’s time to take back control of your work and life.