Does anyone else remember the scene in Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’, when the hospital administrator admires the new ‘Machine that goes Ping!’ in the operating theatre?
A couple of recent, accidental activations of my desktop Amazon Echo in the office (thanks, Alexa) got me thinking about all the other sources of interruption and distraction we surround ourselves with at work. I’ve just had a quick look at my desk and there’s an iPhone, an iPad and my desktop computer. All of which could, if I let them, interrupt my focus with various notifications. Oh and there’s a landline phone, too.
I don’t think this makes me some kind of tech-heavy outlier. Most people have multiple connected devices these days.
And if you consider just how many apps on each of the computers can send a ‘Ping!’, it’s not hard to visualise a workday dominated by near-automatic responses to pings and bleeps, all designed to get our attention immediately. Factor in our in-built need for novelty and you’ve designed a distraction engine!
In fact, it seems like most modern work environments have been designed to grab our attention in multiple competing directions, not allow us to channel our focus productively.
Is it a problem for me?
Only you can answer this question for yourself. Perhaps you’re immune to the various beeps and bloops emanating from your various devices.
However, if you find yourself reflexively reaching for your mobile phone every time it makes a noise, or switching apps on your laptop every time you see a notification, you’re unintentionally sabotaging your own productivity and spreading your limited attention all over the place in the process.
Be honest with yourself and ask if you really need instant notifications every time you get an email, instant message, social media mention and so on. Does your job require this? Or do you just like the thrill of checking new messages?
So, what can you do?
If it’s a given that we’re all going to continue using our machines that go ping (trademark pending), then our job is to ensure that the pinging doesn’t impact on our focus. Some things you might like to consider, in an effort to reduce distractions:
1. Turn off notifications on as many of your phone’s apps as you can. Many apps have notifications turned on as a default, so go to your settings and turn them off. Most modern phones let you distinguish between visual notifications and audio ones. Here’s how to customize notifications on iPhone and iPad and here’s how to do it on Android devices.
2. When you look at your laptop/desktop screen, are you faced with a sea of distracting red dots on your app icons, representing unread emails, instant messages and social media messages? If these dots and numbers – which are designed to grab your attention – are preventing you from focusing on your priorities, consider turning them off.
3. If you really want to be notified when you get emails (really?!), then consider turning off your email app while you focus on something more important, then turn it back on when you’re finished. The email will still be there and it won’t have interrupted you while your focus is elsewhere.
The benefits of applying real presence and focus to our work is the topic covered in our latest podcast episode. Have a listen via the embedded player below and consider what you can do in your workplace to minimise the distractions in your environment, while also increasing your focus.