As Marketers, we always have to stay on, meaning we’re exposed to plenty of distractions in the form of the internet, your telephone or the television. While you are distracted, you are being exposed to many stimuli that prevent you from focusing. As result, being distracted can hamper your productivity, creativity, and eventually your quality of work.
Yet how do we, as Marketers, shield ourselves against distractions in an attention economy that requires us to be online 24/7? It’s difficult, and we can’t do it perfectly. But there are some ideas I would like to share with you.
Mastering your distractions:
One thing is sure: You can never not be distracted at all. Especially for people working with online information, work requires us to regularly be online. From time to time, we have to check email, mobile notifications and our Social Media Analytics. Social Media Marketers sometimes have to check their brand’s accounts on weekend days. All these tasks are shallow, yet necessary, and require our access to the internet and social media.
And you know what social Media offers: funny cat memes, TikTok dances, news reports, social trends, status updates on the weather, your favourite sports team’s result, livestreams, WhatsApp Messages….
…Just to name a few…
How to master our urge and likelihood to be distracted? There are some ways through which we can do so, like Cal Newport describes in his book Deep work. And I’m going to describe some of them, because I found some highly fascinating.
1) Create a distraction free environment
To reduce the risk of being distracted, you must reduce the risk of being exposed to distractive stimuli as much as possible. You must create an environment for yourself where people cannot disturb you. For Social Media Marketers and remote workers, this generally means: detach yourself from the online environment for a while.
So what could you do? Turn off your phone notifications or leave your phone in another room. Work on your computer with your WiFi turned off and only turn it on for necessary tasks. Just make sure that your physical and online workspace are stimuli-free.
2) Create time to be distraction free
Creating that distraction-free environment is easier said than done. There will always be the urge of accessing the internet. Even during times when you’re not able to access it. In other words, when you’re bored, you will always feel tempted to check your phone for social media updates
To reduce the urge to be distracted, we must set boundaries between focus and distraction. In other words: We must schedule moments for when we are focused and when we are not.
There are a few ways of scheduling that are worth mentioning:
The digital detox means that you dissociate yourself from any form of internet technology for a longer period, varying from one day per week up to a month a year (or even longer). You unplug from the online world and use that time to focus on productive tasks, such as deep focused work or self-care.
The disadvantage of this method is that under normal work circumstances, we cannot unplug during a regular weekday or for a longer period. So we either have to use our weekend days or holidays for that. Furthermore, Cal Newport mentions that it is difficult to ‘recover’ from the urge of being distracted during one single day, if we spend the other 6 weekdays being constantly distracted.
The Pomodoro Technique is a method where you spend 25 minutes on work, then allow yourself a 5 minute break, then continue working, after which you grant yourself another 5 minute break. If you are an online marketer, for instance, you could spend 25 minutes on drafting a blog, and then use 5 minutes to check and answer e-mails.
The disadvantage of the Pomodoro technique is that it might be too structured, and that it might conflict with your duties. For instance, it could be that you’re more efficient when you work for a longer consecutive period. That 5 minute break might disrupt your productivity. And personally, my 5 minute break is always longer than 5 minutes (You know, sometimes I find another video that is worth extending my break)
Schedule blocks of deep work hours
You can schedule blocks consisting of multiple hours and spend that time performing non-stop deep work. For instance, you can decide that each morning, you work undistracted from 9 AM to 11 AM. After 11 AM, you’re allowed to grab your phone again and to turn on the internet
The disadvantage? You do have to know when it’s time for a break. You can’t work too long without taking time off. And there might be e-mails and phone calls waiting for your response. Furthermore, there’s always the urge of being distracted…And how to deal with that?
So what if scheduling focused, undistracted time doesn’t work because you still find yourself searching for your phone? Well, why not schedule time for distractions instead of time for focused work?
Cal Newport mentions an interesting approach where you plan ahead your distractions. For instance, if your workday starts at 9 AM, you tell yourself that you can check the internet when it’s 10 AM, and you can do that for, let’s say, 10 minutes (you can also give yourself a longer break). After that, you plan your next moment for distractions and you continue to work.
So what’s the difference between scheduling focused work and scheduling distractions? Well, when scheduling focused work, you’re forcing yourself to not be distracted. When scheduling a distraction, you allow yourself to be distracted only when it’s time to be distracted.
Essentially, you’re telling yourself this: “Hey, it’s 9 AM right now. I can access my phone again at 10 AM for 15 minutes. But that means I can’t touch my phone until it’s 10 AM.”
And by not touching your phone, I really mean: Don’t touch it at all. Even if you’re done with a task earlier than planned, you cannot grab your phone until it’s 10 AM. Because you still must give an answer to your lizard brain that is telling you to be distracted at a very random time.
So if you’ve finished a task at 9:45 AM. Start a new task, go for a very short walk or read a book. But don’t touch your phone.
Work like Teddy Roosevelt
You can even bring the mastery of scheduling your distractions to an extreme. Cal Newport mentions Teddy Roosevelt as an example. As a student, he didn’t spend a lot of time on learning, but he did spend his time effectively, which resulted him in getting high grades for his work.
But how? In his book, Newport mentioned that Roosevelt would first schedule the mandatory college hours and all extracurricular activities, including his hobbies. Assumingly, he also scheduled his regular tasks like having dinner. As result, he would have a few hours of his day left. And these hours, he would use solely for the purpose of studying.
And by doing so, he might have only studied 2 to 3 hours per day. But he did use these hours efficiently because he didn’t get distracted from studying. Because he knew that he would soon be able to do fun, distracting activities anyway.
Here’s an interesting thing you could consider yourself as well: Once you’ve finished a productive task, should you immediately grab for your phone or WiFi? Or should you give it some rest?
Cal Newport introduces the interesting concept of Productive Meditating: Being occupied physically but not mentally: Performing a physical activity while focusing on one problem you’re experiencing at work.
This problem could be anything work-related, like finding an overarching theme for your social media posts, outlining a blog, or finding ways to increase customer satisfaction.
What you must do, is go for a walk, a jog or a bike trip while at the same time having one business-related problem in mind. While you walk, jog or bike, you unconsciously have that idea in mind, and your mind unconsciously makes the effort to solve that problem because you’re not focusing on anything else than walking, jogging or biking.
Cal Newport mentions how walking helped him outline chapters of one of his books. Similarly, I also find great ideas for creating content when I’m biking through the city of Rotterdam. When I’m back at home, I write down all these ideas I’ve generated during my physical activity, so that I can easily execute these ideas later on. Then, after doing that, I’ll grant myself some time off to do something fun and distracting
How do you handle distractions
So all these methods might not be effective to everyone. But I personally found them worth paying attention to in my journey to be distracted by less things. Because I know I won’t ever be distraction-free, but at least it’s worth trying to be so.
How do you handle distractions? Let’s talk on LinkedIn and Twitter!