The Secrets to Mastering Distractions, Gaining Control & Getting Things Done that Matter to You

26-June-2014 in General by Lucy Thomson

Last week we were fortunate enough to have Wendy Cole from i-Mastery present to our HR Professionals group a particularly practical session on the always important topic of time-management, expelling the multi-tasking myth and minimising distractions. With a background that includes tertiary qualifications in psychology, behavioural sciences, entrepreneurship and innovation, and a professional career as owner/manager of her own recruitment and training companies, Wendy runs numerous workshops and is an expert on the topic.

Here are the key ideas from her discussion.

Modern life is messy – we are living in an age of unprecedented complexity (and distraction) and are constantly under pressure from a range of sources, both personal and professional. Essentially we have a prehistoric brain in a digital world. Productivity is learned behaviour, we are not born with the knowledge of how to use a to-do list, we instead must work out a strategy and fine tune it.


Stress is now a fairly common fact of life, we are permanently logged into the matrix, constantly on call and have a habit of checking emails on weekends or holidays, interacting on social media at all hours of the day and night. Despite this becoming a norm to modern life, stress send our brains into survival mode with a reduced ability to think creatively and logically, harms our ability to learn and take in information and as we are all no doubt familiar with, it impacts our memory, emotions and even immunity. All in all we become less competent and unsurprisingly less productive


The facts Wendy presented about distractions are quite shocking but also, in many cases, not hard to believe. “Monkey mind” is a Buddhist term describing the persistent churning of thoughts in an undisciplined mind which well describes this fact: On average we manage only 12 minutes of focused attention before being lured off-task by internal or external distractions. Then, our now distracted selves take somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes to return our thinking to where it was, though almost half the time we don’t resume the original task. Essentially, if we could eliminate four distractions per day, we could save at least an hour of wasted time. What could you achieve with an extra five hours in week?

So given our seemingly rather underwhelming ability to stay on task, what can aid us in being more productive and support the health of our brains? Its rather simple:

Adequate sleep, 7-8 hours a night
Regular physical exercise, at least 30 minutes every other day
Reduce the time spent sitting, move throughout the day
Have meaningful face-to-face human interaction several times a day
Eat a healthy diet that supports stable blood glucose (so as to avoid sugar highs and lows), and one that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, salmon, flax seed oils) which benefit cognition
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf”- Jon Kabat-Zin

After sitting in on this discussion it’s hard to disagree that multi-tasking is a myth. In fact the brain doesn’t think about multiple things at once, it switches between them. Unsurprisingly, this increases errors, the time taken to complete tasks, stress, and mental energy used. It can also be a form of procrastination – the subconscious that’s-a-bit-hard reaction to something we don’t immediately want to deal with. What happens is a cycle of un-productivity. Multitasking leads to distractions and distractions lead to multitasking.

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves, are we doing busy work or are we doing productivework?

Wendy’s tips:

  • Don’t switch the moment you hit a ‘block’, stay with things, stay in flow
  • Be aware the brain has a 90 minute cycle so try achieve things in that block of time
  • Purposefully strengthen your attention and focus
  • Turn your phone onto aeroplane mode and switch off email pop-ups when you’re trying to get things done to reduce the external distractions

A key idea that makes an awful lot of sense is this: tackle your most difficult task first thing in the morning. Throughout the day we get fatigued, mentally and physically, and on top of that we become fatigued from all the distractions we encounter and the procrastinating we do. In the morning however, we are rested and should be in prime condition to deal with the challenging, high priority tasks. This is the time to turn your alerts off, block out the noise and get stuck in. It may sound like commons sense, but is not often common practise.


Conduct a personal stocktake. How many emails, voicemails and inboxes do you have to check? How many items do you need to respond it? Embrace the task manager features on your Smartphone and Outlook and create a useful to-do list with practical steps required to complete a tasks. Be ordered in daily life; get rid of the clutter, tidy your desk, your desktop and your inbox. Batch together similar tasks and where possible do them together, for example, make all your phone calls in one go. Become an expert at clarifying the next step. In the long-term, invest time into goal setting and planning so you have a clear direction for your short-term activities.

For more information on this topic or to express your interest in workshops, visit and contact Wendy Cole Once again we thank all our HR Professionals who attend this session, and of course Wendy Cole for sharing her wealth of knowledge with us.