Distractions are a huge challenge in today’s “always on” environment, and a key source of “information overload”.
In this post, we are going to learn a bit more about the different types of distractions, what they are, and how you can (hopefully) learn to reduce their impact on your personal productivity.
There two key types of distractions: A) External Distractions and B) Internal Distractions
A) External Distractions
External distractions come from an outside source and impact your ability to focus.
There are three main sources of External Distractions; i) Environmental, ii) Technological and iii) Interpersonal.
i) Environmental Distractions
Environmental distractions are caused by something in the environment around you, including your personal comfort level.
Examples include; noise, temperature, lighting, physical comfort, and hunger/thirst.
To minimize the negative impact of environmental distractions;
Turn off the television and the radio (unless music helps you focus).
Set the temperature and lighting is at a comfortable level
Ensure your desk and chair are ergonomically correct.
Make sure you are well-rested, fed, comfortable, and ready to work.
ii) Technological Distractions
Technological distractions are anything caused by technology.
Examples include; pop-up notification messages, instant messaging, social networks, sounds from computer applications, or the display of competing information on your computer or device.
To reduce the impact of technological distractions:
Turn off all visual and audible notifications.
Close-down any applications except the one you need to use for your Focus task.
If possible, simply turn-off your mobile phone, or at least place it on “mute”.
iii) Interpersonal Distractions
Interpersonal distractions are interruptions caused by other people.
Examples include; people phoning or texting you, people stopping by your workspace, and interruptions by co-workers you share office space with.
To reduce the impact of interpersonal distractions:
Set your messenger apps and Email to “do not disturb” mode or shut them down.
Place an “Engaged in Deep Work” sign on your office door or entry to your workspace.
Wear headphones, even if they are not playing music – many people will simply leave you alone if they think you are listening to music, and they have the additional benefit of “muting” environmental noise as well.
B) Internal Distractions
Internal Distractions are ones caused by your own wandering mind. They are some of the most difficult to control since YOU are the cause of the distraction, and why “focus” can be so very difficult!
Examples include; daydreaming, succumbing to distractions or interruptions, thinking about another activity, jumping to look at something else “for just a second” that then turns into much longer than a second, or just “losing focus”.
To reduce the impact of internal distractions:
Meditation and Mindfulness exercises can help you learn how to reduce the frequency and impact of Internal Distractions.
And some of the suggestions such as reducing other types of distractions and optimizing your environment will help to reduce their frequency and severity.
The above information is an excerpt from a larger post on the importance of “Learning How to Focus“.
Thank you to everyone that attended the Information Overload Day 2019 Webinar on October 15th, “Beyond Email – The Next Generation of Solutions“
It was a great session with many interesting presentations and some good discussions.
If you were unable to attend the webinar, or weren’t able to stay through the entire event, we are happy to announce that we have posted the entire event.
You can view it on our: IORG Youtube Channel
Or, you can view the Webinar with this link: Information Overload Day 2019 Webinar
And we are always looking for anyone interested in providing guest posts or support of our organization. If interested, please feel free to contact us.
Thanks again for your continued support of IORG.
Information Overload Day 2019
October 15th at 11:00 AM EDT
Beyond Email: The Next Generation of Solutions
Click the “Register Now” button to Register for this event!!
For this year’s “Information Overload Day” on October 15th, the Information Overload Research Group is sponsoring an online Webinar featuring speakers that are focusing on the specialized topics of “Beyond Email – The Next Generation of Solutions”.
Topics and Presenters:
- Welcome – Nathan Zeldes, President IORG and Founder of Nathan Zeldes Consulting
- Introduction – Jonathan Spira, Vice President IORG and Director of Accura Media
- Solutions Beyond Email – Marc Wright, founder of simply-communicate, will chair a panel of technology experts that will examine solutions beyond email. Participating in the panel will be Nicole Alvino of SocialChorus; and Martyn Perks, a strategic adviser on enterprise social networks.
- Collaborative Team Tools – Marc Powell, managing director of Emailogic Ltd., will share insight on how we can embed new collaborative tools in our teams that will help us achieve our goals beyond what email permits.
- Using Microsoft OneNote to Reduce IO – Dr. Monica Seeley, founder of Mesmo Consultancy, will discuss the benefits of Microsoft OneNote over conventional email and how it helps reduce information overload.
- Concluding Remarks – Jonathan Spira
The Information Overload Research Group (IORG) is excited to bring a valuable webinar where renowned experts and speakers offer fresh insights on the science, stories, and solutions for managing information overload.
Who is this for: Managers, Researchers, Entrepreneurs, Knowledge Workers, Consultants, Educators, or anyone looking to better manage Information Overload.
When: October 15th, 2019, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m EDT.
Where: Online Webinar (webinar details to be provided after you Register)
Price: Although there is no cost to attend the Webinar, we are asking attendees to please consider choosing a “donation” or “sponsor” ticket type. We are a non-profit organization and only through your support can continue to bring you events like this.
Registration Link: Register for the Information Overload Day 2019 Webinar on Eventbrite
Alan Earls [https://searchbusinessanalytics.techtarget.com/feature/Clutter-data-overload-put-dashboard-designs-on-path-to-failure] proposes 5 actions to reduce IO in dashboard design:
1. eliminate irrelevant content, 2. group content logically, not chaotically, 3. assure sufficient user needs input, 4. Let content, not technology be your dashboard design, and 5. consider appropriate access security for the content. Joshua Reynolds [https://marketingland.com/blinded-by-data-181971] further adds 3 new suggestions: 1. content should be KPI driven, 2. focus on identifying patterns in data, and 3. use enterprise-wide sources. Although there are numerous books and papers on effective dashboard design, you might benefit from these more concise references:
1. Microsoft Power BI team [https://powerbi.microsoft.com/pt-pt/blog/the-art-and-science-of-effective-dashboard-design/] 2. Great summary of Stephen Few guidelines [https://www.uxbooth.com/articles/performance-dashboard-design-how-to-put-data-to-work] addresses both content and format
3. Tableau, another leader in effective visualization [https://onlinehelp.tableau.com/current/pro/desktop/en-gb/dashboards_best_practices.htm]
Do you want your dashboards to provide an efficient means to interpret data for faster decision-making? If YES, the above materials will help you streamline your dashboards to improve
Herbert Simon (deceased) offered this insight: “Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” You have this power if you are disciplined. Linda Stone (https://lindastone.net/2014/02/05/our-powerful-and-fragile-attention/) shared: “If we don’t consciously choose where we want to direct our attention, there will always be something in our path tomisdirect it. From the news, to pickpockets, to Facebook — every choice we don’t make is made for us.” Further “If we want to harness the superpower that is our attention, instead of talking about distraction and a need to unplug and disconnect, let’s talk about what it is we choose to connect to. As we reach for what we prefer, we can stop stressing and shaming ourselves regarding what it is we’re getting wrong.”
In her source Huffington post (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/our-powerful-and-fragile_b_4486411?guccounter=1) Linda offers: “Our conversation about distraction, multitasking, and the stern command to focus, actually creates a level of stress, anxiety, and shame.” Further, ” Isn’t it ironic that even in our efforts to manage our attention effectively, we are instead contributing to stress and misdirection!” Her final advice, “The way we use our attention controls and shapes our reality. The way we use it defines who we are, what we’re blind to, and what we see. Direct it? Give it away? The choice is ours. Every moment of every day.” +”Our attention is, at once, both powerful and fragile” So how do you harness and leverage this “gift” to your benefit?
Linda proposes that we struggle with our “Bossy Mind” that thrives on FOMO and distraction (https://lindastone.net/2015/03/11/the-genius-of-attention-making-peace-with-bossy-mind/). We should be aware of this influence by: “Notice what you like about another person, about your day, or about where you are. Notice beauty around you. Notice how you are safe. Notice the way your feet feel on the floor, the way the chair supporting you feels. This might take 10 seconds. It might take a minute.” “Bossy Mind is the Frito Bandito, the Hamburglar of our Attention… our attention is ours to channel as we choose.”
Sound familiar–methods from Mindfulness?– human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Can you improve your focused concentration? Kasio Angeleov (http://www.mintfull.com/blog/how-to-stay-focused/) offers 5 steps to train yourself to eliminate distractions. Certainly, there are other approaches for improving your focus, e.g., filtering e-mail (Knowmail.me), create different ringtones for senders of text messages, and establish “do not disturb” periods to focus on a critical task. Managing your attention is not a complete solution path for IO. The permitted information content may be too complex, limited usefulness, or challenging formatting. Yet, attention management is your gatekeeper or first stage to taming the IO curse.
Difficult information access can result in IO. A study by Teleware (teleware.com) in UK of 2K employees distributed across industries, gender, age disclosed significant frustration from misplacing captured information. Impacts: 720 wasted time, 680 forgot captured information both resulting in reduced task effectiveness. Indeed 520 reported missing deadlines. Only 40% have a routine process to capture, record and retrieve desired input. If an effective process and supporting technology existed, estimated interaction improvements would be: customer service 52%, productivity 48% and information quality 42%. How to improve the capture/record/retrieval of information? Try a folksonomy rather than or augmenting to your probably hierarchical taxonomy for storing data. These folksonomy tags can operate retrieval as if from an associative storage memory structure. Also prune and archive or delete inactive data from your storage. Filter out unnecessary captured information before recording and storing. If some information is used often, consider replicating to a higher speed storage device or cache. These are challenges and helpers that you have the power to adopt as relevant to you. Why not do it?? EndInfoOverlload,,IORGforum
A problem with email is that it has evolved to become a catch-all accepting numerous kinds of messages, many of them far removed from its original intent to serve one to one communications. One kind of message that is hiding in our inbox but is not really a part of the real email paradigm is newsletters and updates from blogs and other websites. It is easy to subscribe to these, so people do; but then they get countless emails that are diluting the “real” messaging content.
The ideal solution to this is moving that newsletter flow away from email and into an RSS newsreader like Feedly or Feedreader. I suspect that too few people are using these tools, which is a pity, because RSS is ideally suited to consuming pushed news, by converting them to pull mode reading. The email inbox has the disadvantage that users perceive it as needing to be cleaned out regularly – ideally attaining “Inbox Zero” every day. This creates stress and overload. An RSS reader is also like an inbox of news items, but it is used for browsing – you eyeball the latest items and decide which to click and read. No need to clean them all.
This subtle difference in use model makes a huge difference in mental stress. Take my advice: anything that is not personal communications yet is of value to you is best consumed in a newsreader!
IORG focuses on information overload in the “office” space, but there are many other kinds of IO out there. Here I want to mention the problems seen in the medical profession, which has the distinction that when information in it runs wild, people die. There are a number of distinct mechanisms involved:
- The interaction of the doctor with the patient during an actual office visit is overwhelmed by the duties imposed on the doctor (by the hospital or HMO) to record everything on a computer. Doctors aren’t great touch typists – they can’t write clearly by hand either, famously – and with only a few minutes available per patient, the time they spend pecking at a keyboard necessarily comes at the expense of their attention to the person across from them. Outcome: less eye contact, less understanding, less curing.
- The interruptions and distractions that affect us all have a chilling effect on doctors’ ability to even tend to their patients. For example, it has been measured that in a typical doctors’ visit in a hospital ward – you know, where the white-clad MD’s go from bed to bed and see what’s what – there are on average 80 extraneous interruptions. Outcome: a slight change for the worse in a patient’s progress may be overlooked or mis-analyzed.
- The amount of medical information generated by the research community is so huge that a medical practitioner doesn’t stand a chance of ever reading even a small fraction of the available published papers in their area of specialization. Outcome: patient shows up with unusual symptoms, and the doctor has no idea that a month before a colleague in a faraway land has published a paper outlining the diagnosis and a novel cure.
- The amount of information available today about a single patient is also overwhelming their doctors. They can get minute by minute readouts of a dozen bodily parameters – but this is too much data to actually grasp. Again, the outcome can be deadly.
So what is to be done?
The most promising source for solutions in computer science – specifically, artificial intelligence. Indeed, you might say that the computer is responsible for much of the IO mess, but it is also coming to the rescue. We already see that the IBM Watson computer (of Jeopardy fame) has been reassigned to advise physicians on which papers – out of the millions out there – are relevant to a given patient’s problem. Advances in natural language processing and understanding will soon take a doctor’s dictation and take care of the filing, freeing the doc to look at the patient. And the reams of monitor data from our bodies are certain to be processed by a Big-Data-fueled Deep-Learning system that will distill out of the raw data insights a nurse can use – such as when to administer which urgent treatment.
Whether the computers will take over the doctors’ jobs is still to be seen – though the nurses do seem to be on safer ground…