Learning Curve: Are distractions driving your business?

by Tracy Clayson
Tracy Clayson is managing partner, business development of Mississauga, Ontario-based In Transit Personnel.
Tracy Clayson is managing partner, business development of Mississauga, Ontario-based In Transit Personnel.

I recently listened to an interview with Jacqueline Carter, the co-writer of One Second Ahead, and a partner at The Potential Project, a company offering organizational psychology services to companies such as Google. It got me seriously thinking about work habits and the damaging effects of information overload in the workplace.

When we are at work we are always on. We are bombarded with requests, information and other distractions. It can be exhausting, at times overwhelming, and there never seems to be a good time to push the pause button, shut out the noise and take a deep breath.

How can we get out from under this heap of emails, voicemails, deadlines, meetings, conferences, appointments, huddles, reviews and other time-consuming work demands?

It’s not easy. Most people spend way too much time and effort just monitoring pop-up reminders, emails, text and voice messages, making sure they don’t fall off the treadmill. Because they keep getting pulled into non-essential or low-priority tasks, they are forced to work later and longer to finish the higher-priority work.

It isn’t healthy, and all of this stress is definitively having a negative effect on our productivity.

So, what can we change about our work schedules and habits to find a balance between work and life?

For one thing, you may have noticed that you can sometimes think more clearly and solve more complex problems when you are out of the office. Has a solution to a conundrum ever presented itself while you were running, swimming, cycling or doing an activity that demanded physical endurance? How about when you were doing nothing but staring at your bedroom wall? If so, there’s your proof.

The truth is we think we can multitask, and perhaps we can to some extent, but most of us lose focus. When we check our smart phones during meetings, at the very least we become less engaged in the conversation and stop contributing—making the meeting far less effective for everyone and essentially wasting time, not saving it.

We know we all can take time to improve our concentration by getting more sleep, doing more exercise, or spending time just being still and quiet. Increased rest, fitness and an improved diet contribute to better concentration and energy.

But how many people have followed through on it? And what about employers? Are they seeing benefits from improved technology and hyper connectivity, or are they creating distracted workforces and contributing to increased levels of disengagement?

Anyway, if workers are suffering, they may be doing it quietly. Today, admitting you are burned out is a career-limiting move, akin to conceding defeat.

And if your strategy for handling your stressed state is to have a few too many drinks in the evening or to regularly take something to help you sleep, you might want to consider the long-term consequences.

Even while the effects of burnout are real, they are not always evident until something unexpected happens.

People who get laid off from a job—if they are not hired somewhere else right away—often find they have gained an opportunity to review their situation more clearly than before. And they frequently realize they were more exhausted than they initially thought.

Similarly, when you are in the middle of a personal crisis in which a family member has become ill or has just died, the demands of work suddenly take on a surreal tone. The important things in life suddenly come into focus and you may question your career goals. You may ask: am I working myself ragged, but setting myself up for an end goal that will ultimately be unsatisfying?

Instead of waiting for a forced interruption from your work life, wouldn’t it be nice if you could proactively introduce short, small breaks over the course of your work day, or work week, and see similar effects?

Just ask Google. The firm introduced the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program to address the quality of life of their employees.

The program introduces healthy ways to handle the demands of work. It also helps people see how lifestyle habits can improve once they explore calmer, more centered and balanced ways to think about, feel about and respond to challenges. For more information see: https://siyli.org.

But even if your employer doesn’t offer such services, you can access similar ones yourself. You could try meditation or yoga. Enjoying the benefits of having a clear mind, clear thoughts and better results should be a priority. But maybe you just don’t know it yet.