This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Dr. Hallowell talks with Maura Thomas, time management speaker and author, about attention management and advice on how to be more productive.
Mini Episode 15: Tune Out the Noise and Get Stuff Done!
DR. HALLOWELL: Hello, and welcome to this mini distraction. I’m your host, Dr. Ned Hallowell. Today, we’re learning how to tune out all the noise to become more productive. Focusing on the task at hand has become more challenging than ever, courtesy of modern technology. There are ways to manage all those distractions and finish what you start. I had a conversation with Maura Thomas, who is a time management speaker and author, she has some very helpful ideas. Maura, welcome, really great to have you.
Maura: Thank you very much. I’m really excited to be here. I’m a big fan of your work.
DR. HALLOWELL: Oh thank you so much. How did you get into this area?
Attention Management to Become More Productive
Maura: The foundation of my business and what I’ve been studying for the last many years is that attention management is the new path to productivity. I’m sure you can relate to that. I believe that time management is an outdated idea. Time management was useful. The advice used to be to go into your office, because you had one, and close your door, because you had one. Really the only technology you had was maybe some sort of dumb terminal that didn’t have the internet connected to it and you had a phone on your desk.
If you closed your door and you put your phone on do not disturb, you could manage your time. You could say for the next hour I’m going to work on this and then at 10 o’clock I’ll work on this and then I’ll take a break. There were some minor interruptions perhaps, but for the most part, you could plan your day the way you wanted.
Conditioned to Check Technology
Now that advice is just out the window because we never know what’s going to happen to us on a given day, because our days are dictated by the communication and the information that comes to us in all the different ways that it comes to us. You could make a plan, but as soon as you check your email at 8:03, your plan is out the window every day. Even if you do manage to silence the external distractions, you shut off your cell phone, you put your office phone on do not disturb, you disconnect your computer from the internet, and you try really hard to focus, you still have all of the internal distractions because we’re so conditioned to knowing that we can indulge any moment, any thoughts, any whim that comes to our brain, it’s easy to indulge with a few keystrokes.
Because we know it’s so easy to indulge, it’s very hard to say, “It’s just driving me crazy if it’s going to rain later, let me just check that really quick.” Then you open your browser and then you’re online and then some ad is pushed to you and then you say, “Oh what is that? Oh the new car is out, let me look at that.” Before you know it, you’re watching cat videos.
DR. HALLOWELL: How do you manage your attention?
Step 1: Control Your Environment
Maura: Getting control of the external distractions is certainly important. Three steps, really. You have to control your environment. If you have an office with a door, certainly closing that is helpful. If you don’t have an office with a door, you could put on headphones and perhaps play some sort of white noise or nature sounds. You can give your coworkers some sort of indication, besides the headphones, that you would prefer not to be disturbed.
I’ve seen some very creative signs that people will wear on their back or on the back of their chair to say “please do not disturb unless I’m on fire.” Something along those lines. Something just as simple as regular green construction paper. Sometimes I recommend that my clients let employees come up with some funny signs based on red, yellow, green, when it’s okay to disturb me and when it isn’t. Then have a set of those signs made for every employee that they can stick to their cubicle wall or the back of their chair or someplace. Once somebody comes up to you, even if they’re polite enough to say, “Hey do you have a minute?” You’re already interrupted.
DR. HALLOWELL: Right, exactly. My favorite one is when they say, “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but …”
Step 2: Control Your Technology
Maura: Right, but I’m going to anyway. There’s not even that, there’s just yelling over the cubicle, “Hey Joe, do you have that paper, can you tell me …” Controlling your environment is the first step and then controlling your technology is the second step. In order to maintain your focus and potentially even get into the flow zone, you have to eliminate the distractions from your technology. I tell people you have to work in offline mode. For example, on your email, you have to put your phone on do not disturb, take control the technology.
Certainly, all of the apps that you have want to send you all those push notifications. Disabling the push notifications is helpful, but certainly working in do not disturb is the best way to go. Even if you are checking your email, if the task ahead of you for the next 30 minutes is to deal with your email, you can’t deal with your email if new messages keep downloading. It’s like trying to dig a hole and have somebody standing beside you throwing the dirt back into the hole.
Step 3: Control Your Behavior
Controlling your environment, controlling your technology. Then controlling your own behavior is the third step, which is often the hardest part, because, as you said, we’ve conditioned ourselves into this state of constant distraction and so when it gets quiet, we get antsy, “Isn’t somebody looking for me and why hasn’t the phone rung and where’s my email? Something must be going on.”
DR. HALLOWELL: It’s such a pleasure. I’m really, really thrilled to meet you. I love what you’re doing. Thank you so so much for joining us.
Maura: It was my pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.
DR. HALLOWELL: Take care.
Maura: You too.
DR. HALLOWELL: What do you think of Maura’s tips? Simple and easy to do and they’ll make a big difference. We’ll put a link to her website on our website DistractionPodcast.com. While you’re there, leave a comment or suggest a show idea. Thanks so much for listening.
This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “Tune Out the Noise and Get Stuff Done!” Distraction is available on iTunes.