Jeremy Côté

Concentrated Work

One of the things I find myself doing all the time is working with a bunch of distractions. This could be as large as being near someone who is noisy and as small as fiddling with my choice of music every few minutes. The possibilities for distraction are practically infinite.

None of these completely derail my work. I can still work during this time, as I’m sure many of you reading this can, too. That’s not a problem. However, I can’t help but notice that these distractions add up. Sure, I can keep on working through them, but at what cost?

It’s tempting to say that it’s zero, or negligible. I used to believe this too, except I then started experimenting. I would let myself be without distractions of any kind and see how my work fared. The result was illuminating. You might expect the work to go a little bit better than with only a few distractions, but that’s not what I found. Instead, the experience was completely different. Without distractions, there is no “wasted” energy at all. It feels both strange and pleasant.

What I learned from doing this is that there is something to be gained by shutting yourself off from any kind of distraction. When you are completely focused on a task, you can get a lot done in less time than you think. It’s only when you introduce distractions that your progress slows down dramatically.

I’m not saying that all of my work time is focused now. In fact, I’m terrible at doing this. However, I can see that my work suffers as soon as I allow distractions to creep in. As such, I’m aware that distractions lead to wasted time.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about being able to do work quickly. There are rarely medals given out for being the quickest at your work. That being said, there’s no doubt that we waste a bunch of time every day. This is something that I suspect applies to everyone. We let ourselves be slowed down by distractions when we should be focused, and this limits how much we can get done.

I know that I want to show up every day and put more work into my favourite activities. I’m motivated to make my work better, which means finding a way to get more done with the time I have. Not in a “let’s burn myself to the ground” kind of way, but more of a “let’s stop wasting time” sort of way. By identifying those sources of distraction, I can work better.

The key thing for me was to realize that even the “small” things have an impact. When I listen to music and scroll through the choices every five minutes, I’m engaging in low-level distractions that break the flow of my work. That’s fine, but it’s important to recognize this.

Hopefully, this will spur you to consider the sources of distraction you let into your life. In particular, think about the small things that you do every day, and ask yourself if they could be impacting your work. Chances are they do have an impact, so then it becomes a question of acceptability. That’s up to you, but I want you to be making a choice about it. Embrace the distraction if you must, but know that it is affecting your work.