Thursday, May 16, 2019

You're Distracted and Chasing Rabbits




In her element
Prepared to go the distance
Is that a rabbit?

Kiya is a good dog. A true Alaskan Malamute she is strong, friendly and loves hiking the snow-covered trails as much as anything. Kiya is also a bad dog. Like most Malamutes she can be stubborn, has a high prey drive that takes control and sheds like … oh god how she sheds.

Kiya is also easily distracted. We hike every day, often along the same trails behind our home in Park City. But every time is like the first time. She pulls me along the trail to explore the same tree she has smelled a hundred times. She grabs the perfect stick, really more of a tree, from the trail and carries it as happy as she was yesterday when she rediscovered it for the 10th time. FULL STOP! Drop the stick. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” A rabbit, a leaf falling, often nothing at all. High Alert! She scans the forest, ears perked, ready to go. And then we are moving again. It was nothing. It’s often nothing. Kiya is easily distracted.

We are all easily distracted. Like the mysterious rabbit that teases Kiya’s imagination our dark forests of technology haunt ours. The snap and rustle of our communication tools keep us all on high alert. WAIT! DID YOU HEAR THAT? Someone was commenting on my post. Someone liked my status update. Someone browsed my profile. Is that an email! Oh, wait. It was nothing. Back to work.

We are all too easily distracted. Work for a bit. See the ping from Slack. Work for a bit. Hear the ping of Twitter. Work for a bit. Suspect maybe another email… and on we go. Our rabbit is out there. Like Kiya, we must be vigilant if we are going to catch it. I read recently that the average knowledge worker only spends about 3 minutes on any given task before switching. 3 minutes on a task and 2 minutes before switching digital tools. It’s crazy! Is it the fallacy of multitasking or is it an obsession with rabbits? The same post noted that we find only an hour and twelve minutes a day of completely focused work. Six hours per week. Only 15% of our work week is focused work. The rest, rapid task switching, falling into the trap of multitasking, searching for… oh look M&Ms are on sale.

Kiya’s distraction drives me nuts. Co-worker distraction also drives me nuts. When new hires join my team I admit to them, very early on, that I have three major pet peeves. Showing up late to meetings, not being on camera when we are on Zoom meetings and... multitasking. Especially when we are on calls together or with clients, it’s just not okay. We all know better but… RABBIT! A few years ago I wrote a very snarky blog post about multitasking, specifically challenging that ass in the room to put down the phone. With almost 30k views I think it resonated with others as well. We really all do know better. We all hate that guy. The multitasking, the distraction, the… RABBITS!

Unfortunately, they aren’t going away. The well-worn paths of our daily habits will have distractions that continue to multiply like so many rabbits. Our 15% of focused productivity each week will be chipped away at until it is all task shifting and bouncing noise back and forth. Unless… we put down and turn over the phones, turn off the notifications, and challenge ourselves, and those we lead and care about, to focus. It's hard. No one likes the reminder. But, we are better for it when we do. When it’s time to focus, focus. When it's time to find rabbits, take the dog for a walk.

About David Verhaag

David has spent his career building and scaling teams at some of the leading HR technology companies. He was most recently the Chief Customer Officer at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, he held leadership positions at Kahuna, HireVue, and SuccessFactors. David lives in Park City, Utah.

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