Why We Love Distractions

Updated: Jul 27

It is incredibly easy to fall victim to distractions within our environment. Often the distractors

are more enticing than our actual work, even though we know that the distractors are

unproductive to us attaining success. When our brain is even slightly resisting a task, it hunts for more attractive things it could do instead. 


Distractions come from one of two places; ourselves and others. Some are within our control

and some are not. Research shows that distractions from others aren’t nearly as detrimental as distractions from ourselves. It can take up to 20 minutes for us to get back on task once we have interrupted our own work, whereas it only takes 7 minutes on average to get back on task when we are interrupted by others. The silver lining is that the distractors we create ourselves are more controllable than the distractors created by others. We can enhance our own productivity by simply creating a reduced-distraction working mode, allowing for a more

manageable number of distractions throughout the day. 


Tips for a reduced-distraction working mode: 


•      Notifications: every notification we receive on our smartphone or computer pulls your

attention away from the task at hand. We can limit this distractions by simply shutting off

unnecessary notifications. *Pause reading this email and change your settings now. 

•       Smartphone and other devices: aside from limiting the notifications that you receive, it is also a good strategy to identify when, where, and how long you will use your devices. Once we identify times for the utilization of our devices, hold yourself accountable. It is easy to allow one hour to turn into two or even three when we are allowing our attention to be controlled by the stimuli on our device. You have the luxury of controlling your attention as well as the time spent (or wasted) through the utilization of your devices. 

•       Airplane mode: when in meetings, engaging in deep work, or simply enjoying company

with a friend – put your device into airplane mode or shut it off completely. This is a great

strategy to ensure that you are and will remain present on the task at hand. 

•       Create a “mindless” folder on your device: another strategy for holding ourselves

accountable to the distractions that we engage in is creating a folder on your device where you house any distracting/mindless apps. The folder’s name alone will serve as a reminder that you are about to distract yourself.

•       Check your email wisely: how many times have you been on your way to a workout (for

example) only to check your email directly before and never make it to your workout due to the distraction? Check your messages only if you have the time, attention, and energy to deal with whatever might have come in. 

•       Keep a tally of how often you check your email: on average, we check our email 11 times per hour – 88 times over the course of our workday! Research shows that we only spend 35 minutes on average actually sending emails throughout the day. Moral of the story is that we spend a lot more time being distracted by our email than actively engaging in email correspondence. Once you create awareness around how often you check for new messages, you will likely want to reduce that amount of time. 

•       Keep an external task list: your email is the one of the worst places to keep your to-do list, as it facilitates the opportunity for further distraction. An external task list, preferably with your daily intention at the top, is much simpler and much more powerful. 


Do you need to tame your daily distractors? If so, engage in the tips above or schedule a session with Kate (kathryn.colvin@nshq.nato.int), your performance psychologist, to ensure that you are facilitating a work environment that will work FOR you rather than against you.


As we help our numerous clients cope with the unique stressors inherent in today’s uncertain world, we are thrilled to offer the services of Dr. Kate Colvin, PhD. As Director of Human Performance, Kate’s role is to provide training and education around various aspects of mental and physical wellbeing, including stress management, effective thinking, mindfulness, attentional focus techniques, goal attainment, organizational leadership, memory and learning enhancement, and sleep. Kate has assisted hundreds of LSDS clients, and is available to help you navigate the path ahead. Email katecolvin@lsds.us to learn more about what Dr. Kate Colvin, PhD, can provide for you.

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