Managing Dangerously Addicting Distractions

ML Mar 9, 2007

Now for a totally off-topic post for the HitTail blog: managing distractions and ensuring professional effectiveness. This post itself is such a distraction. One of the biggest dangers to productivity is media. I both AM the media (in my blogging activities) and user of media in my ceaseless consumption of news and blogs. In fact, I’m at the end of a one-year self-imposed moratorium against TV, as it is the worst time-wasting offender, and I needed it out of my life in order to help create and launch HitTail. But I just ended that moratorium by becoming the latest Triple Play sucker. But also, I’m in the third month of a 3-month Connors Communications client engagement with perhaps the most ambitious goals yet–nothing short of changing the DNA/Religion/Culture of a media company to have a sort of fierce online competitiveness.

It takes nothing less than my full focus.

But HitTail’s going on, and it’s hard to let my baby grow up on its own.

But I have to!

And to achieve that, I need to shut down distractions with extreme prejudice. And I’m just too weak willed. Even now I feel the pull of the Search Hits tab, which is more addictive than caffeine. We didn’t win the PRWeek PR innovation of the year, so I’m trying to make the best of that, with a congratulatory post, so that maybe some people will see that the third runner up is at least as innovative as opening a transparent PR firm in a virtual world–OK, that’s pretty cool. You have to love the symbolism. And finally, I’m deliberating over not getting into the early beta of SpotPlex. Spotplex, if you can hear us: “please let us in!” And one thing leads to the next, so it starts an endless vicious cycle of online promotion addiction. Yes, you can actually be addicted to carrying out an online public relations campaign.

So, this blog post is about my journey in getting these distractions under control, so I can get back to 12 hour days.

The first step to my eliminating distractions is confidence in my people. I have to ignore stuff that my detail-oriented mind wants to delve into. But I invested a lot in my people, and I have to trust them to make good decisions. The HitTail DEV team rocks. I can turn off all distractions and not worry about disaster striking.

Second, I identify all the distraction vectors, and there’s a lot in this new online and wired world of ours. Distraction vectors include phone, PC and drive-by’s. The phone and drive-by’s are easily dealt with by turning off the phone and isolating myself as best I can. It’s not enough to physically isolate yourself anymore. Now, you’ve got to turn off IM, quit out of email, turn off email pop-up notifications, remove extra icons from the task tray and the quick-launch toolbar, and clean up the desktop. If using a web browser is part of your work, you have to turn off StumbleUpon and any other silly distraction magnets that got plugged in. This line of reasoning has led at least one software developer to come up with a distraction-free word processor. And now, I’m inevitably doing all my work through remote desktop, so I have my full development environment wherever I am, so I have to make sure the connection is fast enough so that the terminal server latency isn’t too distracting (it always is–but the benefits far outweigh the cost).

My ideal work environment would be an isolation sensory deprivation chamber with one and only one application running in front of me, taking up almost my entire field of vision, but for a keyboard and mouse. Whenever I needed to venture into the vast wasteland of longtail garbage that is the Internet, I would need the online equivalent of horse blinders to induce the sort of myopia that prevents even the opportunity for distraction from occurring. I don’t know what’s worse: Google or the CrackBerry. Both are supposed to be profoundly enabling, but turn out to be profoundly derailing. Wait until the iPhone hits, and you can have all your information addiction in one pocket-sized package.

So, this is enough writing to get me back on track for today. Having voiced this issue helps make me hyper aware. This article IS my horse blinders. It will now lurk in the edge of my consciousness, reigning me back in whenever a distraction starts to take hold.

I can also take proactive measures to cut distractions off at the pass. For example, I go in through 3 layers of computers to do my remote desktop work: local PC, NAT’ed office work PC, and finally, the DMZ’d servers. And each one threatens to let the distractions of the prior level leak through with ziggurat of Window taskbars. So I use the version of remote desktop that can open full-screen (not the MMC snap-in), and remove the “pin” to make the remote desktop yellow bar go away. So, it looks like I’m in just one PC.

And finally, I fed by blogging addiction, knowing that this will carry me for a few days.

Now, onto some serious work.

One response
  1. netchick

    Hi Mike — Great post! I’d like to submit, though, that women are different when it comes to dealing with distraction.

    For guys, removing any and all superfluous sound and online content is the best way to focus on a task at hand. For women, some audio as background can actually stimulate our productivity. I guess it’s just a matter of how we multitask.

    But, your article was a great read, and I agree with most aspects!

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