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Regain control of your time & attention – make yourself indistractable

Imagine if everyone in the City of Hamilton was admitted to hospital and given the wrong medications.

That’s what happens to roughly the same number of patients in American hospitals every year.

Along with harming and killing patients, these preventable medical errors cost an estimated $3.5 billion in extra expenses.

A hospital in San Francisco found a solution. Studies showed that nurses were interrupted and distracted between five to 10 times while dispensing a patient’s meds. So nurses started wearing bright coloured vests to let colleagues know when to stay quiet and steer clear. Four months later, medical errors fell by nearly 50 per cent.

Other hospitals have since added specially marked distraction-free zones or rooms where nurses can stay focused on making sure their patients get the right meds.

Hacking back constant work interruptions is one of the ways to make yourself indistractable. Rediscovering the ability to give tasks and people our undivided attention will be an essential skill in the 21st century.

indistractable“In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world,” predicts Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. “Those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves ‘indistractable’. In this day and age, if you are not equipped to manage distraction, your brain will be manipulated by time-wasting diversions.”

If you’re not keen on wearing a do-not-disturb day-glo vest around the office, Eyal suggests putting a sign on your door or desktop to notify colleagues when you need to work without interruption.

To have fewer emails flooding your inbox, send fewer yourself and be slower to respond. Not every email needs an immediate reply. Batch non-urgent emails in a folder that you can work through during a block of time at the end of your week.

“Meetings today are full of people barely paying attention as they send emails to each other about how bored they are,” says Eyal. So don’t hold a meeting if you don’t have an agenda. On your agenda, clearly define the problem you want the group to tackle and attach a one-page digest discussing the problem, your initial thoughts and a straw dog solution. You’ll get to an answer faster and eliminate the distraction of unnecessary meetings.

no phone 2Along with having an agenda, make meetings screen-free. Put away smartphones and give a sheet of paper and a pen to anyone who insists on using their laptop to take notes. Everyone must be present both in body and mind and free of screen distractions.

Use group chats sparingly in very specific situations with a limited number of colleagues. “We wouldn’t choose to participate in a conference call that lasts for a whole day, so the same goes for group chat,” says Eyal.

Turn notifications off on your smartphone and desktop. Eliminate apps you don’t use. Rearrange apps into three categories, with primary tools on your phone’s home screen followed by screens for aspirations (like podcasts and audiobooks) and then time-killing dopamine-hitting slot machines (like Facebook and Twitter).

To become indistractable, Eyal says we need to get a handle on both our internal and external triggers that distract us and learn how to better plan and manage our time with intention. “You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.”

Eyal’s four-part indistractable model will help you find your lost attention span and show how to regain and retrain your brain in a world of relentless distractions.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager in McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

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