Episode 014: Work Wednesday – Distraction

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Let me make a confession, I have been working on a different topic for this episode for a few hours and kept interrupting the preparation thereof with many distractions. So I have decided to change the topic to that of distractions.

Internet Black Hole

If you have had a blog or tried to write a book you may have a great deal of experience with the internet black hole. It goes something like recalling that there was this really cool statement you heard on a podcast earlier in the week. You go looking for it to make sure that you quote and attribute it correctly in your blog.

The first podcast you check out that you thought the statement was made in proved to be wrong. Then you think it may have been in a Ted Radio Hour podcast about a related topic. You find it is not in that episode either, but you try Google the key word and TED to try to find the video on YouTube. This sends you to a very interesting video on the same subject but not the one you were looking for.

You go put the washing on while still listening to the video as it finishes and autoplay starts another video that interests you. Since you skipped a few minutes while doing the washing and the visuals used on the TED stage, you go back to the start of the video.

You pause the video to check a WhatsApp message that has just come in. Because the video in the link shared on that group won’t play properly (why do media sites have such bad video players on their own sites. YouTube is still king of the hill by a million miles for adapting quality to bandwidth) you go looking to see if the video in the news article shared on the group is on YouTube and find another video or two that interest along the way.

Eventually, you chat yourself two hours later and return back to your blog post beating yourself up for getting to easily distracted.

Email Interruptions

Another common distraction in the workplace is in the stable diet of work communication, Email.

You are busy with a task in response to an email when you notice an email has come in from your boss. You open it up and read through it. You decide to respond quickly.

As you return back to your task you see a reply back to your reply from you boss again with another task. You judge that it is not as urgent yet as your current task so leave that email open to handle later and again try to resume your current task.

You are just getting back into the groove of the task when another email comes through, or a colleague comes to your desk to ask about the email from the boss that you intend to come back to later. The day just continues.

There is also the alternative where you are doing a task that is important but not urgent right now yet you think you should try to get ahead of the load so you kick it off. The trouble is that you really dislike the task and so you actively respond to any email that comes in looking for other work to take you away from the work that you are going to regret not getting done sooner when there were fewer demands on your time.

Chit Chat

Another distraction is the office chit chat. It is amazing how quickly we will pick up on some points of conversations and wish to contribute to the discussion when we feel like we are the only one not a part of the banter and are just focused on our work.


They continue to be a necessary evil in the workplace, but it fascinates me how some people can complain about having to attend meetings and then dominate them with issues or raise topics not really on the agenda.

Sometimes we can look to meetings as a great time killer to get us to lunch if we can just get them to last 30mins longer.

What to do

There are many other distractions I am sure, the man issue is what to do about them. The simple method is to work on our self-control but let us be real, that is never going to happen over night.

The human mind is perplexing at times. We feel a great sense of accomplishment and get a shot of feel-good when we complete a task but somehow, we easily forget that feeling in the moment a new task approaches us that we particularly dislike. It seems sad but in many ways, the brain easily recalls the negative and unpleasant but requires much more active policing and engagement to replace those recollections with positive experiences such as the feel-good at the end of the completed task.

Speaking of a podcast distraction… oh wait, I have another distraction. Just one moment please, the washing is finished…

Um, as I was saying about podcast distractions. There is a TED Radio Hour podcast that looks at decisions and how basically people make up stories to help them believe they have actively made a choice when many decisions are pre-decided or even engineered for us. The example given by Dan Ariely in his TED Talk is the changing of a form from opt out or opt in and how many people never read or tick the box. When asked why they decided on their choice, they share some compelling story to justify their supposed decision.

How does this apply in distractions you may ask? Just like I know that if I leave cookies on my desk, several people will help themselves before I return from a bathroom break, we can review what things easily distract us and rather than leave the temptation there (like the cookies on the desk) actively look for ways to remove these distractions.

For example, there are applications to lock down your browser for certain periods of time or you can close down Outlook for 30mins while you just focus on a task. Put your phone on silent with it only set to ring maybe if your wife calls.

Don’t just focus on the negative though, reward yourself for a solid period of focused effort even if the task is not yet completely done. You may also find techniques like the Pomodoro Technique helps you get focused and more effective at completing a task.

In the end, you want to try to avoid getting to the end of the day and feeling like you accomplished little because you were so easily distracted. Such a distracted routine wil not help your confidence in the long run.

(Find last week’s episode of Work Wednesday here.)