Combating distractions

One of my most recent experiments is to delay distractions, particularly while driving. I’m tempted to check WhatsApp messages and sometimes even emails during a medium to long commute. And each time I pick up my phone, I tell myself, “you can but after 10 minutes.” Guess what? I’m not even thinking about my phone after 10 minutes but either listening to an audiobook or in deep reflection or a deeper mess, aka traffic!

But traffic is least of our problems. The biggest challenge that we face these days is combating distractions at the workplace. At trick I learned from Nir Eyal’s latest book “Indistractable” (besides the 10-minute rule above) is time-boxing. Although I have been practising it for years, the author states that I can time box my distractions to be more effective. That was new, so I tried this strategy:

  1. Respond and draft emails in 30 minutes chunks after every 3 hours. Amazingly, nobody has complained about a slower response time! Also, I switched to the web-version of the email service as I was getting distracted by the frequent pop-ups in the desktop version. Yes, you can close the application but it’s still there and the temptation to keep it open is too strong! (#thedarkside)
  2. I apply the above with my existing 90-10-90 rule. During my core working hours, I start with checking, respond, and draft emails for about 30 minutes before starting to work for a solid 90 minutes. Take a 10 minute break during which I only “check” for messages and tag them for the appropriate actions. I don’t respond or draft messages during this time. I need a breather, come on! After this short break I work for another 90 minutes and then devote the next 30 minutes to do “email stuff.”

This works like a breeze! Even for someone whose work life is 80 percent emails but both you and I know it’s the other 20 percent is moves the business forward. Most tend to stay stuck at the 80 percent and complain why they aren’t growing! How could they?

If your work and life is centered around emails and you’re convinced there’s no way around it, believe me, you’re fooling yourself. You have to get your way around it else it will consume you. That’s the harsh reality and it’ll be utterly stupid to believe that checking, responding, drafting emails, and attending mindless meetings is the surest way to climb the ladder.

Figure out a way to including some white space in your calendar. If you don’t have any, you’ll need more of it! The “how” part is highly individual and subject to your personal goals. What you need to realise is your agenda comes before other people’s agenda in your mailbox. I don’t care if that’s what pays your bills! What I care is you have a grip on what’s important for your career growth and what’s not.

Our challenge isn’t just that we’re constantly distracted but that we fail to understand that we ourselves allow distractions get the better of us! The big question is this — who’s in the control? And most importantly, what can be done about it?

P.S. Switching a job (which every one thinks they should be doing) or starting a side-hustle (also something everyone thinks they should be doing) aren’t the answer.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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