Why distractions launch full-scale assaults during important work

Posted by in Productivity

Have you ever had the feeling of being under a deadline to get something important or urgent – or both, for that matter – done, yet you inevitably seem to get caught up in distractions of lesser import? The following is what occurs.

Distractions are a bunch of sneaky little bastards. They sit in wait – as distractions are wont to do – to capture your attention, and then run off with it the first chance they get, like a howling flock of wolves who just caught an unsuspecting prey.
I loathe distractions.

And especially so do I hate them when I need to get something important done that I do not necessarily appreciate doing. I’ll walk out the door with a resolve to do anything from painting my house or working in the back yard… and find myself hosing down the front porch instead.

Painting vs pruning

On the home front, this is just an annoyance, but at work it’s a right and proper bitch to deal with. Instead of painting or digging, it’s finishing an offer for a major client – only to find yourself suddenly sitting there pruning your inbox instead.

Yes, pruning ones inbox is important. But it’s also more than a few steps down on the list of important things I ought to be doing, and it annoys me gravely every time I catch myself doing it.

Fortunately, I’m aware of the cause and effect behind this dastardly display of inefficiency, which makes it easier for me not only to spot what’s going on but also snap out of it. The answer is simple: my instinct is engaging my intellect in mortal combat.

Intellect vs instinct

When I find myself distracted by less important work, whether at home or at work, it’s almost always because my instincts lead me away when it’s undesirable work – because important doesn’t always equal interesting. Either that, or I’ve forgotten to allow my brain regular breaks.

Fortunately, the solution to both problems is identical: I take a break. A real break, where I stop doing anything at all, leave my desk and don’t consume any information at all. Staring at nature is good. Refilling my water bottle. Shooting the breeze with colleagues.

And suddenly, I forge straight ahead again into my todo list, enjoying the perks of being a productivity geek who doesn’t have to consider for even a split second what comes next.

Until I get distracted again.