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By Stephen Hickmore HR Magazine – We are under cyber-attack and in a constant state of distraction! Whilst writing this article I have been interrupted by phone calls, e mails, SMS, Facebook messenger and requests to play scrabble on-line. Once the cycle of disruption starts it is hard to return to the original task at hand. So, along with my usual “writers block” this article has taken me hours and a number of sittings to complete.

Nowadays we have to contend with the assault of communications media. Imessage, WhatsApp, e mail, skype, FaceTime, Snapchat, SMS and BBM. Coupled with nifty gadgets like iPad, smart phones and iwatches. This toxic mix, designed to make us more effective, results in us reaching new heights on the confusion scale and gasping for virtual Ritalin. We don’t know how to manage our interruptions. We want to feel important and vital. But in the search of popularity we are rendered inefficient and unfocussed. Attention seeking apps, notifications and feeds compete for our time like a bunch of spoilt toddlers in kindergarten. Our attempts to placate them is driving us crazy.

How many meetings do we sit through surrounded by blinking and booping pieces of technology? The combination of a smart device and the use of social messaging messes up even the most fluid debate.  A device will soon announce its presence, interrupting the conversation leaving all participants hanging and waiting for the owner to complete his reply. Then beep boop away we go again. Even in a social setting it’s become the norm. A call to switch off all devices only makes us set them to vibrate forcing the dedicated cyber addict to check the screen every few minutes. We have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and its terminal.

What happened to being fully engaged and focussed on one important thing at a time? Please don’t tell me you can multitask because you can’t. Well, not at the level necessary to be an effective communicator. We end up doing a dozen things badly instead of one thing well.

At Concerts, have you noticed how nearly everyone is brandishing a device to record or take photos of the gig? Whatever happened to enjoying the moment, in the moment?

There is a genre of study called “interruption science”. According to Gloria Mark, a leader in interruption science, the average office worker switches tasks every three minutes, and, once distracted, a worker takes nearly half an hour to resume the original task. Her study revealed that each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted. Answering notifications on smart phones and computers seriously effects task performance and the ability to resume the original task at hand.

I contest that people were able to concentrate better in the old days. The only possible communication methods were the spoken word or letters. It was easier to focus on the moment and manage the more human distractions. Now we are bombarded with information on a minute by minute basis.

How do we solve the problem? Here are five tips that may help

Focus only on credible sources of information – Turn off anything that does not enhance the task you are working on, especially social media

Filter information based on your priorities – Answer what is urgent and set a time to reply to less important communications

Don’t read everything – Don’t waste your time reading irrelevant info. The delete button is your friend

Limit interruptions and disruptions – Choose a few platforms, don’t subscribe to too many social communication tools. They are a minefield of distraction. Switch your phone to do not disturb in meetings and social interactions

Resist the urge to constantly check for messages. Rather set notifications.

To quote American Motivational speaker Jim Rohn “Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention”

At last, I have completed this article. But, not without my own personal battle with interruptions and distractions. Now where is that Ritalin?

Originally Published in Hotel and Restaurant Magazine Feb 2015

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