In his recent book “The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had,” Edward G. Brown presents a step-by-step lesson in recovering lost time — including how to prevent interruptions from sapping your productivity and satisfaction. We asked the time management expert for a few tips on managing distractions. Wouldn’t you know it? He says the biggest time thief of all is … you.
Recapture Your Wandering Mind
Bored with the project at hand. Worrying about an ailing relative. Wishing you had help. Anxious to hear if you landed the new client. Hungry. Hot. Unless you are remarkably focused, you are going to be tempted to let your mind wander.
The sheer existence of email and smartphones tempts the mind. You’re working on a brief, with good intentions of blocking distractions, but you suddenly feel the urge to check to see if anybody has texted you — “just in case.” Research says we check our phones 150 times a day. Let’s face it, we’re not doctors on call for critically ill patients — we are distraction junkies!
Techniques for the Self-Distracted
If you are prone to self-distractions, what you want is a technique or two to help you rivet your mind. Here are a few I teach — choose the ones that work for you.
- Transcending the environment. The room that is too hot or too cold. The chair that’s all wrong. The noisy construction next door. You are not a thermometer, obligated to rise when it’s hot and drop when it’s cold. You are not a receiver, obligated to listen to every sound. If you permit yourself to think about the physical issues, you will just suffer more. You need to rise above physical issues.
- Constructive acceptance. Accept that which you cannot change and do so graciously, not grudgingly. Try to find the positive in what appears negative. (The case file is missing important papers? “Good thing I caught that now, before the court date.” Got a weak case? “Fine, I’ll call my old mentor and a couple of veterans tonight.”) Finding the positive lets you restore your focus.
- Visualizing the “ideal self.” Visualize yourself as a winner in a given situation. Think about how you’ll tell the client that the other side has to pay court costs. Imagine accepting congratulations when you win your case. By visualizing winning and how it will make you feel, you can better accept the given realities that currently distract you. For example, you may be tired and prefer to call it a day, but by seeing yourself winning the case, you get the strength to keep going.
- Positive affirmation. When I first heard Nike’s positive affirmation slogan “Just Do It,” I found it simplistic and silly. But I gave it a try and I was converted. Now, whenever I use my own version — “I can do it” — I am intentionally programming my subconscious mind through conscious thought to think positively. The physical ability follows the mental statement; I truly can do it. A friend likes to insist “I LIKE this” until she does. Find what works for you.
- Psychological counterpunching. When a counterproductive thought threatens your focus (“I should check my emails now”), throw up a mental counterpunch (“I’ll be so disappointed later if I don’t finish this project today and have to get up early in the morning to do it”). Then immediately follow it with your own best punch: “Remember how great it feels to have a leisurely start to the day!”
- Changing your internal computer chip. Once a pattern has been embedded into your “computer chip,” you need to replace that pattern if you hope to change. For example, if you’re trying to break a habit of worrying about what opposing attorneys will do, it doesn’t help to say, “Forget about the other attorneys!” Instead, when your mind starts to go there, remind yourself that you’ve done all you can to prove your point. Then, the next time the same worry occurs, simply trigger the comforting thought that keeps your anxiety at bay.
Edward G. Brown is a leading sales, marketing and culture-change expert; a strategist, trainer and lecturer for the world’s largest and most successful financial institutions; and a prolific author of customized training programs and “how-to” management books. “The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had” is a 2015 Axiom Business Book Award winner. Follow Edward on Twitter @EdwardGBrown and @CBMGresults.