gap intelligence follows a cultivation culture, which means we intend to succeed by growing people to fulfil our vision. As part of our company’s efforts to improve, every gapper gets their own education budget to spend growing their skill set, obtaining certifications, focusing on professional development, and generally bettering themselves. One component of our manifesto proclaims that “we are all change agents for our own growth.”
In July, I had the opportunity to attend my first Mind the Product Conference. Mind The Product is the world's largest product community. The Mind the Product community believes that the best way to learn about Product Management is from people actually in the industry and they achieve this by hosting conferences and smaller meetups all over the world. As one of gap intelligence’s Product Managers, I couldn’t wait to take a more active role in my industry. This year, Mind the Product San Francisco hosted 1,600 people from 33 countries for an awesome day of learning and sharing everything product-related. It was amazing to be surrounded by product professionals from a diverse array of organizations and industries. As the day progressed it became clear that not only did everyone in the room share a passion, we also encounter a number of the same challenges.
There was obviously a heavy focus on product talk at Mind the Product – it isn’t every day that you can just talk to strangers about the struggles of backlog prioritization. (It sort of kills the mood at parties.) Topics ranged from product backlogs and roadmaps to data-driven product decisions, ethical product development, and everything in between. The advice was practical, and I was excited to get back to gap headquarters to implement what I learned. A presentation from Nir Eyal greatly resonated with me, and it wasn’t actually specific to product at all: Distraction.
Distraction – It’s Everywhere
What is distraction? According to Dictionary.com, distraction comes from the verb “distract” meaning “to draw away or divert, as the mind or attention: to disturb or trouble greatly in mind; beset: to provide a pleasant diversion for; amuse; entertain.”
Regardless of your industry or role within your organization, chances are you face distraction on a daily basis. Take the below quiz to find out!
Have you ever scrolled through Instagram when you’re out to dinner with friends?
Have you ever stopped what you were working on to reply to a slack message from a coworker?
Have you ever responded to an email notification that just popped up?
Have you ever had an impromptu in-depth conversation with whoever stopped by your desk with a question?
We are all experts at being distracted. Go ahead and add it to your LinkedIn profile. I promise to endorse your honesty.
Alerts, Dings, Pings, and Rings – Oh My
Distractions are the result of both external and internal triggers. Something steals your attention away from what you were doing or what you should be focused on doing, but where did that come from? External triggers are pretty easy to spot. We can hear them, and we can see them; just about every application has a notification system of some sort.
Internal triggers are sneaky. In fact until they were mentioned in Eyal’s presentation, I never factored them into my list of things that distract me. Internal triggers are basically the distraction ninjas. These are the result of homeostatic responses; something happens that stimulates us to take action, even if we didn’t notice. Homeostasis is all about balance.
What about when the trigger is emotional discomfort, how do we find balance then? There’s an app for that. Say you feel lonely (Facebook), or uncertain (Google), or even just plain bored (insert favorite game app here). Ultimately, these triggers regardless of where they originate are uncomfortable and when we experience them we turn to distractions to relieve discomfort, even if we didn’t realize or understand that we were uncomfortable in the first place. See? Ninjas.
When we are successful in relieving this discomfort regardless of what caused it, our brain rewards us. This is where it gets really tricky because rewards motivate behavior. Think Pavlov’s dog, except we don’t salivate at the sound of a Facebook alert, hopefully. We relieve the discomfort by checking Instagram or replying to the slack message to make the red dot disappear, and we feel better. The more we repeat these behaviors, the more we train our brain to accept our loss of focus.
Just 12 hours before this presentation I was sitting at my desk thinking about how I was multitasking my way to being a master of productivity! But now I was questioning what I believed was being productive. Was I truly performing at my best, or was I just doing what I felt was my best because I couldn’t allow myself to see any other options? I know there were 1,599 other people in that room, but I swear it felt like Nir Eyal was speaking directly to me. COME TO THE LIGHT, we have productivity.
Interruptions are Killing Your Productivity
Ok so we are distracted, but what does that mean? A 2008 study from University of California, Irvine (UCI) found that office workers are interrupted, or self-interrupt, about every three minutes. If you adhere to the average 8-hour work day, that is 160 interruptions per day. Depending on the nature of your job, a distraction typically won’t result in anything catastrophic. Once the distraction has passed everyone will move on with their day and do their best to pick up where they left off, no biggie. It turns out; it might actually be worth noting. Data from the UCI study points out, in an effort to make up for lost time, employees compensate for their distraction by picking up the pace. Unfortunately, rushing can have a negative impact on the quality of work we produce, all the while increasing our stress and frustration (read: creating additional internal triggers to avoid discomfort). Quality work and innovation take time and focus, sorry past-college-essay-writing-self.
“An addiction to distraction is the death of creative production.” – Robin S Sharma
Turn Off, Unplug, & (Trying to) Learn to be Mindful
Thanks for reading about how distracted I seem to be. Maybe you may even got distracted while reading this blog about distractions, and now you’re stress spiraling just thinking about it.
I ferociously took notes during Eyal’s presentation, hoping to capture the magical secret recipe for the superpower of “indistractibility.” But I didn’t. The two main things I did learn, as simple as it sounds, are 1) be mindful of others, don’t become their distraction, and 2) in order to identify the distraction and manage it, I first needed to know what it is distracting me from.
As someone who believed that multitasking was my superpower, it is really hard to pick the single task from my to do list that I am actually supposed to be accomplishing instead of jumping through my entire checklist getting a little bit of everything done at once. But when I take a step back it really comes back to the principles of Agile Scrum, a practice we follow with our development team but is also growing in adoption of other industries. We focus exclusively on the sprint goal, working only on what has been prioritized in order to deliver value. The principle being that progress is measured in terms of a what is completed. At the end of the day, even if you completed 99% of a bunch of things, you still didn’t actually totally complete any one thing.
I am still learning. And that is the best part. Learning, welcoming change, and seeking growth doesn’t have to be some big grandiose upheaval. Let’s face it, a drastic change (much like cutting carbs entirely out of our diets) is bound to fall by the wayside if we go too big too soon.
But by picking something small, like blocking time on a calendar (maybe preschedule your 30 minutes of Buzzfeed quiz time, no judgement), opting for a pleasant do not disturb sign for your desk to let your colleagues know you are super focused right now, or even trying a distraction fighting app (yes! there is an app for that) helps to identify and alleviate some of the temptation to become distracted or to distract others.
The truth is that it is up to you. Distractions aren’t going anywhere, and we don’t live in perfect little vacuums. But by planning our days, practicing awareness, and doing our best to unplug, we can at least gain some traction.
For more than 15 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.