Distractibility and the Low C
WRITTEN BY Vicki Myoda, Senior Consultant
If your PI survey results show a Low C, you are motivated by a fast pace and by variety: you’re a natural juggler, but prone to boredom if there’s not enough new stuff going on (or if it’s going on too s.l.o.w.l.y).
This wonderful attribute (yep, I’m personally fond of the Low C) also makes it amazingly easy to wander (mentally and physically) away from the task at hand – especially if that task isn’t something you enjoy doing anyway. Technology (email! texts! IMs!) and other humans (“do you have a minute?”) don’t help, either. And – as action-oriented low Cs – we are naturally drawn to those distractions and interruptions, because they give us the change (the new) that we enjoy.
So, what can Low Cs do when we really, really need to focus, stay with it, and finish that project? Here are a few ideas:
Eliminate physical distractions to the extent possible. A friend of mine (Low C) manages someone who is her polar opposite (High C). They share a workspace, so my friend is treated daily to the sight of her High C subordinate tackling his work in a methodical, deliberate, step-by-step fashion. All she can think about is how much faster the work could get done if this person would do things the way she does (i.e., the Low C way). My friend can feel her impatience building (and blood pressure rising) through the course of the day. My suggestion? Stop watching. Turn your desk, or turn his desk – do whatever is needed to get this person out of your field of vision. They say you don’t want to watch sausage being made, and – if you’re a Low C – you don’t want to watch a High C work.
This physical reorganization of your space can also help if your desk faces a well-traveled hallway (“Look – new people!”), or a TV monitor (“what’s that?”). If you know you can’t resist the distraction, remove temptation from your line of sight.
Similarly, remove reminders of all the interesting things going on in cyberspace while you’re trying to work: turn off audible notifications (and visual icons) of incoming e-mails, “likes” of your Facebook posts, etc. If you are worried about missing important e-mails, set a timer on your phone to remind you to open e-mail once every two hours. Set your browser to open to a work-related site instead of a scrolling news site.
The ultimate in environmental control? This one only works if the world can turn without you for an hour or two: book a conference room, or a study room at a library. Leave your phone behind, or power it down (gasp). Nobody needs to know where you are, and there will be nothing there but four walls, a desk, a chair, you, and your project. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in one or two hours of isolation (which will be about as long as you can stand this type of focus, anyway).
Intentional shopping. Have you ever gone into Target for two things and come out with a cart full of goodness-knows-what? Yeah, that happens in cyberspace, too. When booting up your computer, be intentional about what part of the ‘web world’ you will stay in on this visit, and for how long. Again, set a timer if that helps – and until the buzzer goes off, work only on the designated project, no matter what.
Don’t eliminate breaks, but do change them up. Low Cs need changes of activity, pace, etc., to satisfy this action-oriented drive. However, if you’ve been working on the computer all morning, switching to “personal business” screen time (e.g., checking Twitter, online shopping, etc.) isn’t really a break. You’re still staring at a screen, and still using the same parts of your brain. What to do instead? Plan a 5 to 10-minute “recharge” of something entirely different: take a walk, look out a window, stretch, call a friend.
Be honest. If you are working against a deadline, and someone asks for your time, resist the temptation to multi-task them into your day. Why? Because you know part of your mind will be thinking about the passing time and the project that needs to get finished. Instead, be honest and say, “I want to give you/your question my full attention, but I can’t do that right now because I need to finish this. Can I come see you when I’m done?” If your work team is predominantly Low C, perhaps you can agree to post signs – such as “On Deadline” or “In Focus Mode/back at 2:00” – that you will honor amongst the group.
Do unto others… Many Low Cs are serial interrupters: we think of it, we want to act on it, and therefore we immediately reach out to others to make it happen. Try working out your patience muscles a bit and jotting those genius ideas down, to share at a scheduled meeting or by e-mail. Your fellow Low Cs will thank you for giving them a day with one less (oh-so-attractive) distraction.