How many windows do you have open right now? Be honest. My count is 12. And that’s not so bad compared to a normal day of coaching when the bottom of my screen is blinking so blindingly that I have to put minimizing windows on my “To Do” list.
What about email? How many times have you checked your inbox today? On a good day, I try to treat Hotmail like a hot potato and only hit “Refresh” 3-4 times. But if I’m not careful, I end up clicking in and out dozens of times, adding minutes—sometimes hours—to my work day. (Don’t even get me started on social media!)
So, why the digital inquisition? If you cringed while answering the above questions, you, like me, may suffer from an addiction to distractions: a disease suffered the world over by just about anyone with something they need to get done. And you may be addicted to distractions even if you aren’t experiencing e-symptoms like mine. Do you ever have an unshakable urge to clean out the refrigerator right as a deadline is approaching? Or are you prone to taking a few extra coffee breaks when your workload is especially heavy? Yup. That’s a distraction addiction, alright.
Don’t feel too bad. Most people who are addicted to distractions are also high achievers who are eager to do, do, do (usually too, too, too much). The problem is, when a high achiever has a distraction addiction, it’s like hitting a buffet on an extremely empty stomach. Every task, like every greasy favorite on the food assembly line, seems appealing. So we load up our plates and, before we know it, our stomachs (i.e. our schedules) are stuffed and we’re ready to nap. It’s not very productive (or very healthy).
Tim Ferriss talks about this addiction in his book, The 4-Hour Work Week, which is exactly what it sounds like: a guide to working less, playing more, and kicking your addiction to distractions. Ferriss helps readers crank up their efficiency by focusing on what really matters. He deems email, for example, as the “single largest acceptable interruption in modern life.”
I admit, I defend my own email use by proclaiming its efficiency. Nora Ephron wrote that people think it’s much faster to reply to an email than pick up the phone, but that she spends most of her time answering emails from those who don’t even have her number! To counteract this, Ferriss challenges distraction-prone readers to limit their inbox visits to just twice a day. (I’m getting there.)
Stripping away interruptions like email creates an environment for what Ferriss calls “single-tasking” or finishing the day’s most important tasks from start to end, which serves two aims: it increases productivity and gives high achievers a greater sense of accomplishment. Sounds better than staring blankly at my inbox. Go even further by outsourcing your least crucial projects—try Upwork to start—so you can concentrate your energy on what makes you money, not keeps your mind numbingly busy.
Are you ready to kick your habit? I am. That’s why I’m closing out a few more windows and setting a timer to read my incoming messages. When I’ve completed my critical tasks for the day, maybe I’ll reward myself with a Facebook break. Or maybe I’ll actually get out there and enjoy the real world!