In my last post about focusing on important over urgent, I wrote about choosing to focus on the important and not simply allowing the urgent to rule your time. These are concepts championed by Stephen Covey in his books The 7 Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First. Choosing the important over the urgent can be a very challenging process because the urgent always demands your attention, whether it is important or not. I noted that an open door in the workplace can serve as a great way to build team communication, but it can also end up inviting urgent matters that aren’t important in your immediate moment.
In the last post, I only discussed tips to help focus on important in the realm of the physically open office door, but we often allow less tangible doors to remain open in multiple areas of our lives, inviting several different types of distractions all at the same time. We live in a world where we multitask with technology of all kinds, and if you’re not careful, you can fill your life with technology interruptions out of a desire to be accessible. If you limit technology distractions, you are sure to become more productive.
Fight the demands of the urgent and limit technology distractions
Technology isn’t bad. I love technology, and I’m constantly using technology. We all know, though, that overuse of technology can get in the way of productive time management. The concept of focusing on the important and filtering the urgent comes into play with technology as well. When you limit technology distractions, you’re filtering urgent notifications in order to focus your attention on what’s important.
We must make sure that urgent matters are actually important. Nothing declares its urgency more than a telephone ringing, a text beeping, or an email notifying you of its need to be read. I even find those little numbers on the corners of my iPhone app icons distractingly urgent. I have an overwhelming desire to clear out all those little app badges to have a phone screen clear of notifiers. But following through with that desire to clear out your phone notifications is catering to the urgent instead of actually focusing on the important.
When it comes down to it, allowing your email or phone to have unbridled access to you, interrupting you at any given moment, gives power to the urgency of the phone call or email message. You must limit technology distractions from emails and phone calls when it’s time to get real work done.
Text messages are another urgent communication that are rarely actually important. The challenge, especially in a work environment, is that you do occasionally get a call, email or text that is both important and urgent. So how do we limit technology distractions while acknowledging the occasional important communique?
Beeps, rings and pop-ups demand attention even when they are not important
I encourage you to adjust the settings on your cell phone and your email (both computer and phone email application), even on your office phone, and if you’re really getting crazy, even limit the ringing of your home phone. The more you limit technology distractions to interrupt your flow, the more you will limit the urgency that comes with every email, text and call. Instead, take responsibility for determining day by day how much interruption you want.
My best suggestion is to turn off all notifications and then check each technology at set interval based on the likelihood of that they’ll have something important for you. For example, I love texting but the texts are rarely actually important. What would happen if I check my texts every 4 hours? I would probably survive, and I would get more done.
My office emails, on the other hand, can sometimes involve important matters that are also urgent. I’ve turned off noise and pop-up notification emails to limit technology distractions because I found that every ding and every pop-up felt urgent. Instead, I try to check emails in 15 minute intervals. But if I’m working on a project that requires real focus, I may completely close my email software until I’m finished. One inbox notification could completely wipe out my focus on an important project, so sometimes it’s valuable to just shut email completely off and limit technology distractions to get the important work done.
Can you forward your phone calls or put your telephone ringer on silent? I have found that many, if not most, phone calls can wait. In my life, rarely is a phone call both urgent and important. Voicemail is wonderful technology because it takes the immediacy and urgency out of a phone call and allows me to prioritize it on my own time and in my own way.
Social media is rarely urgent or important
In the same way, checking social media must be done in a controlled manner. Social media, for most people, is neither urgent nor important to their daily tasks. As such, I would recommend social media consumption to breaks and moments where you’re allowing your brain to take a break from the important tasks of the day.
What are some techniques you use to limit technology distractions so you can focus on the important?