“In any given hour of the day, you face a multitude of distractions. Interesting tweets, cool instagram shots, gowalla check-ins, IMs, emails, and the rare peek into your Facebook News Feed are but a few of the items that solicit your attention.”
If you’ve had occasion to watch the TV series 24, you’ve probably felt the excitement that comes when you hear one of the agents utter the phrase, “I’m going dark.” Going dark ensures that said agent would not become distracted from their objective by removing all communication (e.g. distraction) until after their objective is complete; and when you’re single-handedly busting through a terrorist bunker to save the world, you need all the concentration you can get.
As designers, the dangers we face are not much less than those of a top government agent. For all of his awesome, I’d enjoy seeing the likes of Jack Bauer go up against an angry client, or try to make a page uniform across the range of browsers and devices in use today. In addition, we face a danger so ubiquitous as to make a legion of terrorists look feeble and defective; it is the danger of distraction.
The Deadly Distractions
In any given hour of the day, you face a multitude of distractions. Interesting tweets, cool instagram shots, gowalla check-ins, IMs, emails, and the rare peek into your Facebook News Feed are but a few of the items that solicit your attention. Add in the day-to-day distractions of texts, phone calls, office banter, and the music coming through your headphones that you swear is essential to productivity, and it becomes a wonder that anyone can get anything done at all. It’s distraction that keeps us from deadlines, and limits our potential; the same distraction that drives our government-agent-hero to go dark, and remove communication until the job is done.
To combat such an enemy, we have to be vigilant in creating an environment where we can remove distraction, and focus on remunerative work, that produces real results. When I was the creative director for a Utah web firm, we had a tradition of imposing “Dark Hours” throughout the day. These were small periods of times where nobody was allowed to interrupt each other. Unscheduled phone calls were put on hold, cell phones were shut off, and email was closed in an attempt to create an environment where the only choice was to complete the task you were working on. It was incredibly effective. We would work on the highest priority tasks that required the most focus in a given day, and work until the job was done.
Search and Destroy
After these periods of extreme focus were up, we would resume our normal activities of answering phone calls, replying to emails, and trying to get as much done as possible while still servicing all the little tasks throughout the day that were a necessary part of our jobs.
The distractions during your normal hours of business are still there, seeking for your attention whenever your mind isn’t occupied with a task; as a result, I recommend anyone who desires to minimize their distractions employ a method of Search and Destroy.
The process of Search and Destroy is simple: Find the distractions that waste the most of your time, whether they be colleagues, email, phone calls, or little side projects, and either organize them into scheduled time slots, or remove them altogether. You’ll be amazed at how much time you’re saved each day by only checking / replying to email during pre-chosen time slots, rather than in any given moment.
It’s about distraction management, yo
Nearly every self-anything book on the market will give you tips on how to manage your time more effectively. That’s great. Find them, employ them, and perfect them. Distraction management, however, is all about elimination. It’s about what you can organize and prioritize, and what you can kick out of your life until the job is done.
So, stop letting me distract you – it’s time to go dark.