Driven to Distraction

Staying Focused on Your Studies in an Over-Connected World

October 08, 2009

Lately, my thoughts have been distracted by thoughts about distractions. It began last week when I witnessed a woman crash her bicycle because she was trying to simultaneously ride and talk on her cell phone. True story.

There's no denying that we live in an increasingly connected world where distractions and information overload have a growing impact. David Goldes of Basex, a NYC‐based research and advisory firm that examines the efficiency of US information workers, has been speaking out on just how pervasive distractions are in the working world. A few key points from his research:

We spend 15% of the day searching for things and 20% in meetings.

A mere 12% of the knowledge worker's time is spent in thought or reflection.

Each work day, a typical information worker turns to e-mail 50+ times, uses instant messaging 77 times per day, and stops at 40 websites over the course of the day.

Basex has also found that a big chunk of wasted time comes from the time it takes to recover from an interruption. So it's not the short call from your spouse that drives down your productivity so much as the time it takes to get your brain back on task. According to Goldes, fractured attention costs >$650 billion/year in US alone in lost productivity!

As for online training, distractions can become a serious impediment, keeping you from retaining the material and completing your lessons on time. Our customers tell us that these best practices have helped them to maintain focus:

Get away from the office and find a quiet place with no interruptions or temptations. And secure your manager's commitment to support this break from routine.

If you cannot leave the office, block out an entire day for training. Turn off your phone and email and close the door. If you have to check in to work, do so only when you've reached a natural breaking point, like the end of a session.

Regularly block time on the calendar in increments of at least 30 uninterrupted minutes 3‐4 times/week. You may not need that much time, but at least you have it blocked out and it may be easier to ignore distractions for discrete periods.

Make a standing date with a "study buddy" to work through content together. Working in pairs provides pressure to complete materials, and you can share how to apply course material to actual projects.

Regularly perform a self‐check on understanding. Studies have shown that when students frequently ask "do I understand what I just read?" — the retention of the learning is much higher.

When it comes to work and e‐Learning, how do YOU keep focused? We'd love to hear your comments. Personally, I find that there's no better solution than…sorry, got to go. I really need to get this call.

Larry Goldman