Canadian Underwriter

How to stop distractions from derailing your work

December 12, 2019   by Jason Contant

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If you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day at your brokerage and yet feeling like you didn’t actually accomplish anything, you’re not alone. It’s likely because you’re distracted, either by others or yourself.

“Constant distraction leaves a trail of scattered thoughts and partly-done tasks in its wake,” said Maura Thomas, an award-winning international speaker and trainer on attention management, corporate productivity and work-life balance, in a Harvard Business Review blog last week.

The path to improved productivity at work lies not in time management, but in attention management, she wrote. Attention management is the practice of controlling distractions; being present in the moment; finding flow; and maximizing focus. It’s about choosing where to direct your attention, rather than allowing distractions to derail you.

Although not specific to the insurance industry, there are three easy things anyone can do to begin the process of attention management:

  • Become aware of it
  • Devise plans to overcome it
  • Take advantage of the principle of “activation energy” – breaking down tasks and getting specific.

The first step is awareness, wrote Thomas, who is also a TEDx speaker in How to Overcome Your (Checks Emails) Distraction Habit. It’s hard to change a habit you don’t realize you have. And so, every time you find yourself switching away from a task without an intentional stopping point, note it down. Habits are triggered by cues, so try to notice how often the distractions happen and why you are allowing your attention to be stolen.

Once you become aware of the cues, Step 2 is to find ways to overcome them. For example, ask yourself and others how to keep people from interrupting you when you’re trying to focus. And think of what exactly you might say if they interrupt you anyway. Record these ideas and identify opportunities to try them out, then note whether or not they were successful. “Over time, you will begin to understand what works and what does not in your unique situation,” wrote Thomas.

A third step in kicking the distraction habit is to draw on the principle of “activation energy.” In other words, make it easier to engage in more productive attention-management habits. For example, to get started on thoughtful, important tasks that might otherwise seem difficult, break them down and get specific. Instead of putting “analyze report,” write, “identify the main idea in the first section of the report.”

“If it sounds fast and easy, you are more likely to do it. So make everything sound fast and easy,” said Thomas. “In my work as a productivity trainer and speaker for nearly 2,000 organizations, I have found that distraction is the single biggest barrier to meaningful, satisfying work. Distraction leaves us feeling exhausted and like we aren’t accomplishing anything despite the fact that we’re always busy. And because it becomes a habit, when we’re not being distracted by someone else, we often distract ourselves. To avoid burnout, we need to recognize and devise a plan to combat the problem so we can get our most thoughtful, important work done and unleash our genius on the world.”