In our beginnings, the tendency to fall prey to interruptions actually saved us from predators. We needed the ability to do one thing but at a moment’s notice shift our attention to something else. It is an evolutionary mechanism that made sure we’d survive.
Our sensitivity to distraction and interruptions is mainly a dormant lizard brain mechanism left in us from our ancestors; it served us as a tool in the survival of the fittest game. Think about the monkeys who could climb vs. those who couldn’t which would survive? Ultimately, our sensitivity developed a part of our brain that enabled us to scan for patterns faster and better, allowing us to discover rewards better at a result (food, water, “not getting killed”, etc.)
When we distanced ourselves from the natural environment, our brain didn’t make the jump with us. As a result, we are still stuck with a heightened sense of environmental awareness. But now, our environment includes the internet, video games, Facebook, Twitter, coffee breaks, and other temptations that steal our focus and impair our abilities to get things done.
In order to further evolve, we need to learn new skills that will help us cope in a world full of temptations and distractions. How can we build structure and effective habits to help us keep those distractions in-check?
Building an Anti Interruptions Border
The Chinese started building the Great Wall in the 7th century BC. It was a huge construct that was built mainly to stop invading tribes from attacking. The problem was that it was ineffective due to its size, it spread the guarding forces too thin, and when the Mongolian invaders came, they were not able to stop them.
Interruptions are just like the Mongolian hordes, they will find the weak spot in your borders and they will invade. That’s why when you set your borders you need to make sure they’re effective.
For instance, I’m sitting down now to write this post. I am probably facing the same potential distractions that you face every day as well. So rather than rely only on my office wall as a barrier, I have many effective borders….
First, I put my phone on DND (Do not Disturb), this usually prevents people from coming over to my office. Those that do, we’ll see my door closed. Before I had an office, I used a yellow post it with a red do not enter sign on it. People came to realize that I should not be interrupted if they see it.
Those are the easy borders. What about the tougher ones? Email, IM, Smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, you name it! Simple – Shut them off. Yes, disconnect your internet. You don’t have to shut it down forever. However, while you work on a task, take a 45 minute break from all the interruptions. At first, it is very difficult. After a few weeks, you’ll wonder how you worked with all those distractions.
You need to learn how to build effective borders if you’re to fight interruptions successfully. After you’ve secured that border, you need to learn how to channel the energy required defending it…
Channeling Energy to Manage Interruptions
The way you channel your energy has a direct effect on your ability to manage interruptions and focus. You might not feel like it at times, but you have a lot of energy to manage. If you don’t learn how to distribute your energy effectively throughout the day you’ll fall prey to interruptions more easily.
Our level of energy is influenced (mostly) by three factors:
- Sleep – If you slept awful at night, chances are that you’ll have and awful day. Healthy sleep is essential for your focus and memory function. Without it, you are much more susceptible to distractions.
- Nutrition – Let’s keep this one simple. Watch your simple sugar intake! Eating simple sugars like candy and soft drinks will give you an uncontrolled energy boost. You’ll have a lot of energy but you’ll find it very difficult to control; you’ll be more susceptible to distractions. Not to mention, you’ll be looking for more once you crash from your sugar induced high. Sounds simple, but hard to implement…the healthier you eat, the more focused you’ll be.
- Exercise – the more you exercise, the better your body gets at managing the energy it’s given. Exercising also help you to get rid of excess energy reserves that you might have. I am not advocating intense training 2-3 hours a day, but even a slow paced 25 minutes walk during your lunch HOUR (who needs an hour just to eat) can lead to a dramatic improvement that you can feel right away.
Remember, learning how to fight interruptions is a process…Once we had a heightened sense of smell, we lost it because it stopped serving us. Perhaps in time, we’ll become less sensitive to distraction and interruptions. Until that day arrives, we’ll be constantly tested and interrupted, so you better develop the required skills to cope and survive.
Until next time…