Phone ringing, people coming to ask you questions, your own mind going in 5 different directions at the same time… interruptions are part of every-day life. There is even a scientific field dedicated to them called “interruption science”, believe it or not.
Because interruptions can destroy your productivity and job performance.
Learning how to regain focus after you have been interrupted has become a necessary survival skill in the jungle we call work. A skill that you need to develop and get extremely good at if you want to get any work done.
Here’s how to do it:
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Interruption are inevitable.
You can minimize them. You can set up your work space, or your office, to eliminate a part of them, but you can never get rid of 100% of them.
People are going to interrupt you. Noises are going to disturb you. Your own random thoughts are going to pop into your mind when you least expect them… it is all part of a day’s work.
But, here is where it gets worse: according to a recent study, it can take up to 25 minutes for you to regain focus, after you have been interrupted. You do it once, not a big deal. But, do it a few times per day and those minutes quickly add up to hours of lost time. Time that you could’ve spent getting closer to your goals.
Regaining your focus (quickly) after an interruption is one of the most vital skills you can develop in this noisy, over-communicated world of ours. You simply cannot afford to waste up to 25 minutes every single time your get interrupted, or you risk getting nothing done.
Let’s lower this “regain focus time” from 25 minutes to just a few.
1. Bookmark Your Progress
When you are reading a book and you need to stop, you always mark the page you were currently on. This makes resuming from where you left off a breeze.
Apply the same technique to your work.
If you are interrupted, or you need to pause your task for any reason, bookmark your current progress.
Take out a piece of paper, or a post-it note, and write down where you currently are. What are your thoughts? What were you going to do next? Jotting down your current thought process would allow you to much easily resume your work and regain focus when you come back.
It takes under 1 minute to do, but it will save you valuable time when you are back and you have troubles remembering what was it that you were doing before.
Don’t fall pray of the “this is so important and so fresh in my mind that there is no way I am going to forget it” mentality. You know it never works out like that. Write it down. It will help you remember it better and you will have a record of your thoughts. When you come back, 10 minutes, 2 hours, or 6 days later, you’d know exactly what was on your mind before you left and you’ve be able to get back in the groove in no time.
When you are interrupted, take a few seconds, write down your thoughts and only then step away from your work and do what you have to do.
2. Work “In The Cloud”
The cloud is a magical place.
And I hope you don’t think I’ve gone crazy and I’m talking of actual clouds (although they are magical too :).
I am referring to “cloud computing“. The near magical process of real time uploading of your data to an online server with no extra effort on your part.
While you are writing the next blog post, or creating your spreadsheet, your work is automatically being saved and uploaded online. You don’t need to be pressing the Save button all the time. You don’t need to upload files. You just do your work and modern-day technology takes care of the rest.
Try to always work in the cloud, or use a program that “autosaves” your progress.
Programs crash. Computers restart themselves when you least expect them. Batteries of laptops die when they are not supposed to. There are so many ways for your hard word to just vanish in thin air that you cannot take that chance.
Working “in the cloud” minimizes the risk.
There is nothing worse than taking a short pause away from your desk and coming back to realize that your computer has restarted itself in order to update some software that you didn’t know you had and that file you worked on for 2 hours in the morning is now gone because you did not save it. Now, instead of 25 minutes to regain focus, you need to spend 2 hours starting from scratch. Not an ideal scenario.
Working “in the cloud” will save you a lot of trouble as everything is automatically being saved and uploaded online. This way, even if something happens to your computer, or device, or software, you just need to download the latest version of your work and get back in the groove.
Note: I am writing this in MS Word in a file that is in Dropbox. Word autosaves my progress, Dropbox uploads each version online. If I am to step away right now and something is to happen to either my computer or software, I can resume work pretty fast by just downloading the latest version of the file.
3. Take 2 Minutes To Get Refocused
The usual tendency is to try to resume work as fast as possible after you have dealt with the interruption.
But this is not ideal.
Take 2 minutes to get yourself refocused instead.
In a recent study, a group of researchers discovered that people are 27% more prone to making a mistake in their work if they try to resume it immediately after being interrupted. When they took just 2 minutes to gather their thoughts and regain focus before resuming work, that 27% got almost eliminated.
Instead of rushing back to work, take a few minutes to switch gears. Read your notes from step #1. Gather your thoughts. Get back to your original thought process and only then resume work. This would allow you to regain your full focus and get “in the zone” much faster than if you just jumped right into it.
Over To You Now
There you have it, how to regain focus after an interruption in 3 (more like 2) steps: before you need to stop, bookmark your progress and take a few minutes to gather your thoughts before you resume work. Add to that always working in the cloud and you’ll be able to reduce those 25 minutes of “regain focus time” to just a few.
It is not a ground-breaking revolutionary process, but it works like a charm and that is what matters.
Question: what other techniques to regain focus have you used? Share in the comment section below: