Distraction is essentially the bane of productivity. You can’t get anything done if you can’t concentrate, and you can’t concentrate if you are constantly being distracted. This is the key reason so many people complain about the constant noise being made by their phone, the constant drip-drip of e-mail notifications and the endless rabbit holes of the internet, which is only a click away.
But there is more to this problem. If you examine the dynamics of it long enough it is not hard to notice that loss of productivity is a symptom of a bigger problem, and that is overreach. It’s not necessarily the fact that a person can’t accumulate enough productivity at the end of the day, it’s more a function of the fact that no amount of productivity will overcome the burden they have placed on themselves. They simply have too much on their plate. At that point, distractions aren’t necessarily preventing productivity, they are an escape from the impossible.
Work that can be done — and done well — is both more engaging and capable of mitigating distractions. The human mind is more than capable of engaging fully with a task and tuning out distractions if a person really wants to do what they are doing. On the contrary, when the work itself is distracting because it is disorganized, unclear or obviously pointless, then practical distractions have a much easier time derailing the productivity train because the person attempting the task is looking for a reason to quit. Some tasks must be completed regardless of their desirability, but those less desired can usually be made more approachable via simplification or consolidation of efforts.
Authors have a trick for reaching their writing goals each day, and that is to plan out what they are going to write in advance. It does few authors any good to sit down to a blank screen and try to compose on the fly unless they are very good at weaving a compelling narrative out of nothing but imagination. In this vein, it is far easier in most cases to make some plan and then try to adhere to the plan along the way.
Planning is the natural enemy of distraction because it is likely to produce a list of actions that will engage the person performing the work. Since workers are authoring the plan in the first place, they can avoid the kinds of distracting tasks that will derail their own efforts.