The Tremendous Cost of Distractions on Your Time and in Your Life

Bill Abbate

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How to Stop Distractions by Taking Control of Your Time

Never in history have there been so many distractions in life. Can you imagine living in a simpler time, before electricity? No telephone, no internet, no email, no texts. All you had for light was the sun, a candle, or an oil lamp. The only interruptions in life were other people, the weather, and the need to find food and water.

While I have no desire to go back to such times, I long for the peace and quiet of long ago. The only way to achieve such a thing today would be to move off the grid, far away from civilization. I doubt many of us would want such a primitive lifestyle.

In this modern age of technology and life, it is so easy to become distracted. Distractions exist everywhere. Added to the distraction of other people are phone calls, texts, email, print and electronic media, every modern convenience imaginable, and an unlimited amount of information available at our fingertips via the internet.

A basic question I stop and ask myself once in a while is:

"Am I in control of distractions in my life, or am I allowing them to control me?"

Have you ever asked yourself such a question? If not, would you like to gain more time in your day? Would you like to increase your productivity while lowering stress? It is possible, and it starts with seeking an honest answer to the question I ask myself. Why not ask it of yourself and change your life as well? How do you do that, you ask? Let's take a closer look at what many people find helpful when dealing with distractions.

What do you lose because of distractions?

A great deal of information from many studies about distractions in the workplace exists. The results of these studies apply to everyday living as well.

When you are working on something and interrupted, it is common knowledge it takes time to get back to the point you were at when you were interrupted.

How many times do you think you have interruptions each day? Studies show we are interrupted on average every eleven minutes! Let's take a very conservative estimate and say you are interrupted once every hour during an 8-hour workday for a total of eight interruptions.

According to one university study, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the point where you left off. Let's assume a conservative one interruption per hour each day. Eight multiplied by 23.25 minutes gives you a costly loss of 3.1 hours each day! That is a considerable amount of time and lost productivity! Remember, we are using a conservative number of interruptions, so the actual number is considerably higher!

"The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work." W. Edwards Deming

I could use an extra hour or three each day, couldn't you?

Reclaiming lost time

With so much time lost, what can you do to reclaim some of it? The simple answer is to just stop it. Stop allowing interruptions. Stop letting others steal time from you. Were it only that easy!

The best way to deal with wasted time and interruptions is to:

  • Take control of your environment.
  • Stop outside interruptions for defined periods of time.
  • Don't allow others to waste your time.
  • Actively plan to reduce or eliminate all distractions within your control.
  • Be bold and take control of your time (which is your life.)
"There are no interruptions, only mismanaged inputs." David Allen

Now let's look at a few practical ideas you can begin implementing immediately:

  • Use your calendar to schedule uninterrupted blocks of time for specific tasks. Keep your appointments with yourself!
  • If you work in an office, close your door. If your boss doesn't like the idea, show him or her this article and explain how you can be far more productive and effective without interruptions. Something I found helpful was putting a sticky note on the door saying I would be available at a certain time. When the time comes around, open the door so people can interrupt you at their leisure!
  • If you don't have a private office, find a spare conference room or anywhere else you can work uninterrupted.
  • Put your office phone on do-not-disturb, shut off your cell phone, and close all browsers and email programs. Remember, even when the disturbance comes from you checking your email, you still lose.
  • Do some work without any electronic aids such as computers and cell phones. Ah, to be back in the age of pagers and "laptops" that weighed 20 pounds and ran for 30 minutes on a huge battery. Seriously though, you would be amazed at how productive you can be with a good old pen and notebook or legal pad. Try it once. You may rediscover creativity you forgot you had.
  • Avoid non-productive meetings. Personally, I would avoid almost every meeting unless my attendance was required.
  • Never, ever try to multitask. It not only lowers your IQ but is a highly effective way to waste time! Check this article out for more on multitasking: How to Deal With the Habit of Multitasking.
  • Avoid engaging others in conversation when you are short on time. This means at the proverbial "watercooler" or anywhere else. Politely tell them you are working on something important and must get to it. Compared to wasting time, everything else is important!
"Focusing on one thing without interruption is how you get meaningful work done." Nate Green

Final words

Finding ways to reduce or eliminate distractions is not difficult to do. Planning and implementing them is an entirely other matter.

Think of the time you are losing – you alone are responsible for the time lost, wasted, or stolen. Unless you do something to stop it, it is your fault as much as anyone else's. Only you can prevent forest fires, uh, I mean interruptions.

"Stop letting other people hijack your day." Frank Sonnenberg

Do you enjoy others stealing from you? I thought not.

When you realize how absolutely invaluable time is, you will become bolder and start to fight for your time. Can you imagine getting more done in less time with less stress and far better results! So why not do it? You are the one who stands to gain, and you are the one who will continue to lose if you do not take control.

Take one step now to reclaim some of your time. Take another step tomorrow and each day thereafter. It's your choice – gain or lose. Since it is time and not weight, I hope you say gain!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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