Merge's Blog

Having trouble staying focused? You may be the problem!

In the past, I’ve blogged about the challenge of staying focused citing research from Gloria Mark, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine and an expert on work interruptions (see A leadership lesson on staying focused (from cats)).  Recently, I was doing some research for a new program and came across an interesting interview with Gloria Mark in which she made another specific comment that caught my eye.  Her studies have shown that people interrupt themselves almost as much as they are interrupted by external sources – people interrupt themselves about 44% of the time; the rest of the interruptions come from external sources.

Wow!  Think about this for a moment – on average, 44% of interruptions are self-induced.  And yet, many of us (myself included) often gripe about how hard it is to get anything done because we’re constantly interrupted by others.  Now to be fair, if you’re in a position of leadership, perhaps you’re on the “more external interruptions” side of the 44% average, but it’s still a telling number!  Are you guilty of working on stuff other than your highest priorities?  Do you find yourself checking email the moment you hear the “ding” that signifies one has arrived?  Do you check your social networks several times during the day?  Would you much rather make a non-critical phone call rather than focus on getting started on a large (and overwhelming) project?  C’mon, be honest!

I’ll admit to falling into the self-induced interruptions trap.  Will you?  And perhaps more importantly, what do you do to stay focused on a given task?  I’ll start the list – I block off time in my schedule to work on one (I repeat one) key project, and then turn off email and close social networking sites on my computer for that time period.  What can you add to the list?  Please share.

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