How to Thrive in An Age of Distraction

If technology was intended to free up our time, decrease our stress levels and allow us to automate repetitive tasks, how did it become so distracting?

In an effort to free ourselves from a highly administrative environment and allow us to work on a more strategic HR focus, what we’ve actually done is introduce more ways that we can be pulled into busy-work and away from our goals.

Not only are we getting distracted individually by all of the technology that surrounds us, but we also find ourselves distracted organizationally as we agonize over which technical solution we should be using.

The Sum of our Devices
No matter who we are, we’re all struggling with the same personal distractions and, over time, they’ve become more and more pervasive.

A distraction used to mean the phone ringing or an occasional drop-in from a colleague while we were in the middle of an important task. Today’s distractions, unlike a person or a phone call, are constantly hovering around us. That little red notification circle, a small ping, the quiet vibration of your smartphone, or the sliding notification in the top corner of your computer: all follow you around on every device and quietly demand that you address them.

The issue with these seemingly innocent notifications is that, over time, the attachment to our devices and their continual demand for our attention has tapped into our neuropathways and high-jacked our dopamine loops.

An Information Addiction
According to some research, rather than causing pleasure in our brains, dopamine is now causing us to continually seek out information in anticipation of finding it. This is why the allure of a mysterious notification is too much for us to resist.

In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. explains that, “with the Internet, Twitter, and texting, you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek…It’s easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.”

Breaking the Check Reflex
So how do you address the addiction? A practical way to reduce the desire to check every single message that comes our way is to adjust the notification settings on all of your devices.

Schedule out blocks of time on each device where no notifications of any kind come through, so that you can focus on the tasks at hand and not get tempted by every little ping. While it may seem like a small change, it’s an important step in taking action towards the continual pull to check, and check, and check yet again.

The Burden of Outdated Tech
Now, let’s widen our focus, to look at two of the more distracting impacts technology can have effects technology can have on your organization as a whole. The first is the point at which a particular piece of technology requires human intervention in order to perform properly.

Think back to a time when you were with an organization that had a legacy system in place, one that was forever being “patched” together with other systems in order to function correctly. These are the systems that don’t meet the reality of the business needs today, and employees have stepped in to create work-around solutions in order to simply get the job done.They become so burdensome, that organizations start to hire more and more staff to compensate for the lack of productivity; paperwork and hard files start to become necessary backups, and additional administrative tasks are added just to keep things flowing properly.

All of this starts to happen when the root of the problem is an outdated piece of tech, and everyone becomes distracted with bandaid solutions, as opposed to focusing on doing great work.

The Cost of Cutting Edge
The second way that technology can be operationally distracting is due to our propensity to try and implement everything, at once, all the time. This simply does not work. With so many platforms and technical solutions available to HR leaders, it can be very tempting to try and implement the latest and greatest in your organization, but this often proves to be more of a distraction than an improvement.

So how do you decide which platform, piece of technology, or upgrade you should consider? You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Will it allow me to do my job, the way I need to do it?
  • Can I perform real-time talent management?
  • Can I identify high performers and support learning initiatives?
  • Can we actively monitor the sustainability of our efforts?
  • Can we do it digitally?
  • Does it meet the needs of the business today?

Before you make a quick decision to invest the time, money, and resources to implement today’s most advanced platforms or tools, make sure it’s what the business actually needs.

Mastering Your Mindset
Above all else, the key to thriving in an age of distraction, is rooted in your mindset. This means making a conscious effort to block out any low-value distractions or “seeking” behaviours—like checking those notifications.

In an article written by Mark Murphy, a contributor for Forbes and founder of Leadership IQ, “the average person checks their email about 15 times per day” and the time and productivity cost of these distractions can add up very quickly.

Taking this one step further requires blocking out time in your schedule for focused, deep thinking, and intentional work. This time can be for working on innovative solutions to your sustainability programs or to connect one on one with employees to find out how they are doing. It can also be set aside to focus on the strategic initiatives you are putting together in order to attract and retain top talent across the country—people work, connecting work.

Purpose Provides Peace
When you are purposeful with your time and consciously focused on what you need to do in order to achieve successful outcomes, the thrill you get from checking a notification will start to fade in comparison to achieving a meaningful goal.

Finally, being mindful about how your goals are achieved is another important factor to consider. Remaining focused on achieving an objective is one thing, but it doesn’t have to be done with the same piece of technology that everyone else is using, simply because they are using it.

Take a realistic look at how your organization functions best, identify what it’s true needs are and what kind of support each employee actually wants . Then, with criteria in hand, you can take a look at the options—ones best suited to fulfilling your company’s needs, right now, in the right way.

Nicole Girouard is marketing director for the Dynamic Achievement Group—powering excellence through mindset, culture and leadership.

(PeopleTalk Spring 2018)

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