Can you curb your distractions?

Cravings

Ty was a participant in one of my leadership development classes. In our session on effective meetings, I’d shared research on how much more efficient meetings could be if people refrained from attempts to “multi-task” while in the meeting. The buzzes and beeps from our smartphones, tablets and laptops are addictive. We crave the distraction and the potential reward that comes with an exciting or important text message, social media alert or email.

So Ty set out to curb his craving for distraction.

It was harder than he thought.

“I keep looking at my phone to see if there are any new messages,” Ty told me, “I have it silenced, not even on vibrate, and I am so addicted I keep looking.  I can hardly last 10 minutes!”

I empathized. I’d been there myself a couple of years ago when I broke up with email. It is simple, but it certainly isn’t easy.

I explained to Ty that his smartphone habit was based on the repeated and predictable pattern of Cue –> Routine –> Reward.

The cue was his boredom.

When his mind would drift, whether in a meeting or doing independent work at his desk, that was his cue to reach for his phone. Maybe a juicy reward (interesting message) just arrived.

What makes the smartphone habit stick is the craving for the reward.

We all want the kudos email from a customer, the confirmation of a new project with your best client, or a note from your sweetheart.

But more often it is a notice that the cable bill is due, Amazon would like you to rate your recent purchase or Target alerts you to a sale curtains.

Ty’s anticipation for a reward, in fact his craving for a reward, was what made the habit stick.

Once he understood that the craving for the reward was driving his behavior, he understood, and he relaxed a bit. “I get a little hit of that craving when I’m just looking at my phone on my desk, trying to will myself not to look at it,” he said. “I’m going to leave it in my pocket or put it in my desk drawer when I need to concentrate so that I’m not triggering the craving just by looking at it.”

When I last spoke with Ty, he was making good progress on delaying the reward. He’d decided that kicking the smartphone habit altogether wasn’t in the cards for him, but he could at least delay the eventual reward . . . be it a text from his sweetie or a sale on curtains.

What strong cues draw you in?

Share yours below and I’ll reply with some tips to curb them.

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    man-on-phone-background-noise

    Dogs barking in the background.

    A noisy lawnmower outside an open window.

    Doorbells, other phones ringing and text message alerts.

    These and other distractions have been the impetus for many virtual teams to enforce a ground rule of muting during calls when others are talking.

    Muting comes with its own set of pros and cons. Sure, the dogs, doorbells and children are not a distracting part of the meeting. At the same time, muting the line often gives way to doing other work and non-work activities.

    A recent study by Intercall, supplier of teleconference lines to the vast majority of Fortune 100 companies found that many employees report doing other things while attending conference call meetings:

    • Two-thirds of those surveyed admitted to doing other work while on other calls,
    • 63% reported writing and sending email,
    • nearly half admitted to using the restroom while on a call,
    • and others reported being on another phone call or exercising while on conference calls.

    Clearly mute is necessary to perform these unrelated activities without disrupting the call.

    Is there an alternative?  One that will keep employees engaged in the call at hand – the one they are supposed to be on?

    Indeed, there it and it is unmuting.  I advise virtual teams to UNMUTE during their meetings (think three to ten people on a call or video chat; the same rules to not apply when there are more than a dozen people on the call).  Having everyone “live” on the line fosters a more natural flow of conversation.

    Social cohesion is also more likely to develop since team members’ laughter and other social cues are heard and more easily understood.

    As for the issue of background noise such as a barking dog, the doorbell, or even the sounds of family members, these can be a good reminder that team members are people in real environments with real things happening in their environments, rather than work-producing robots. It’s also a good reminder that someone might be joining the call at an odd hour in their time zone or on a day when they might otherwise not be working.

    So, if you’d like to create more social cohesion, more accountability and get people to pay more attention on conference calls, reach for the “unmute” button.

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