Where did the time go? Is that really the time? Why do I feel like I’ve been running around all day long but barely gotten anything done?
Distractibility is not just on the rise; it’s a fact of life thanks to the pervasiveness of the digital revolution in recent years. A 5-minute power nap at lunch-time turns into 30-minute snooze. A thoughtless glance at your inbox turns into a hour-long jump into the email black hole. Meetings that were supposed to only be an hour end up morphing into inconclusive 3-hour-long discussions that no one acts on afterwards without being chased for it.
The fact is, the more intense the demand on our attention, the more crucial it is for us to be able to buckle down, shut out distractions, and focus properly if we hope to get anything done over the course of the day. At the end of the day, though, it’s not just your productivity that’s at stake—it’s your stress levels, your mental clarity, and the acuity of your critical thinking and creativity skills that also suffer if you can’t get yourself to ignore the constant barrage of distractions at work.
Crowding out those distractions, though, requires a systematic effort involving both abstract introspection and practical solutions. To that end, the first of this two-part series on being less distracted will focus on the former: how to utilise emotional self-awareness and regulation to unpack the particular causes for your distractibility.
P.S. Leverage your emotional intelligence for workplace success: sign up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on applying emotional intelligence to manage self and team!
Given the massive deluge of tasks and notifications screaming for our attention on a daily basis, coupled with the fact that different people react differently to different things, it’s absolutely critical to properly reflect on what exactly the greatest source of your distraction is.
Some people are highly sensitive to noise; working in an open office, for example, would prove to be a huge source of distraction them.
Others, however, might not mind the noise of an open office so much as the fact that their co-workers might keep stopping by and disrupting their workflow. While both of these situations are distractions that stem from the same cause (an open office plan), the solutions would likely be different.
Likewise, in terms of work processes, some might find that their greatest pain point when it comes to distractibility is meetings that drag on for far longer than they need to, while others find that multitasking is their greatest obstacle to focus.
According to Nir Eyal, entrepreneur and bestselling author, the real reason why we get distracted is because we use it as an “unhealthy escape from bad feelings.” What we’re fundamentally afraid of, Eyal says, is psychological discomfort, and distractions are merely a medium for us to run away from those nagging feelings of emotional unease within.
Again, though, there could be a lot of various causes for this psychological discomfort. We all know someone who can never sit still; they always have to be doing something all the time. Then there are those who hate being alone. Others, still, pursue the state of “being busy” as an indicator for how successful they are in life. All of these people tend to use distraction as a means of escaping negative feelings, but the way they distract themselves differ.
For instance, those who fear loneliness might fill up their schedules with meetings and appointments that could otherwise have been solved with a simple phone call. Recognising and admitting your own psychological discomfort is the first critical step you need in order to move away from distractibility.
Let’s be honest: social media provides us with a huge (and infinitely expanding) source of distraction, even at work. There is, however, a very particular kind of psychological discomfort that explains why we can never get enough of social media; we have a fear of missing out (FOMO).
The element of social comparison that comes with admiring a highly curated version of someone else’s life is extremely addictive. We want to feel like we’re “keeping up with the Joneses”; to feel like we’re not missing out on anything that other people can have or enjoy. If our online friends are always travelling, for example, we start to want it for ourselves too. Social media creates within us the sense that if we’re not checking it twenty-four times a day, we’re missing out on things.
In fact, FOMO is likely the reason we compulsively check our emails and phones as well. It comes down to that element of “what if”; what if I miss an important email, an urgent call, or a text from someone important? It’s such an incipient fear that most of us probably don’t realise how we’ve been victimised by it. In this way, FOMO often has us chained to distractibility without us even knowing it.