One of the ongoing challenges in the PR and Marketing field is a culture where we must be “on” all the time, ready to respond at a moment’s notice, whether it be a crisis response situation or an opportunity to provide thought leadership on a given trend during a short news window. This requires us to be constantly reading and participating in conversations that most affect our industry and clients. At the same time, we struggle to find time to focus on in-depth projects that require hours of uninterrupted attention. It’s easy for us to feel conflicting priorities pulling us in different directions when we’re constantly tethered to our smartphones, tablets, social media channels, email, texts, news feeds and, soon, Google Glass too 🙂 (I hope not).

The convergence of all these technologies and communications channels is the digital equivalent of walking into the middle of a theatre-in-the-round to take a chemistry exam. Instead of peace and quiet to focus on test questions, you hear a cacophony of voices coming from the theatre seats surrounding you. The seats are filled with all your acquaintances and friends speaking to you at once with no concern for the fact that you are taking an important exam. Sure, you can try block out the voices in the room, but it’s quite difficult to concentrate when you know all those other voices are looking for your attention. It’s apparent your test results will suffer.

Some people seem to be better equipped to handle this than others (I don’t claim to be one of them). These are the people who respond to every email immediately and are posting to Facebook and Twitter throughout the day. I always wonder how they do this and still find time to be productive. I personally have never believed in “multitasking” – just in what I think of as “micro-tasking,” working on one project at a time in small, interrupted increments.

A recent study conducted by Carnegie Melon, and chronicled in The New York Times, showed that people aren’t really being productive when yielding to these constant interruptions through “multitasking.” In fact, the study found that we are “20 percent dumber” when we try to balance all the digital distractions. Slightly encouraging, the study also found that people who are used to these interruptions and expect them to happen, improved this number to 14 percent. While this is progress, it is still not an optimal performance.

So what are we to do? In our profession, we can’t completely ignore all the voices in the room. The power of persuasion through all of today’s digital channels is an undeniable asset to our clients looking to make an impact through PR and marketing. But there are ways for us to enjoy these benefits, while minimizing the impact they have on our work productivity. Here are a few practical tips I have found helpful:

  1. Shut off the notifications on your smartphone, computer and tablet while working. Allow yourself to focus. You can always turn them back on when you complete a given task.
  2. Schedule set times during your day to check and respond to emails, check news feeds and participate on social platforms. All of these will be waiting for you when it’s time to check them.
  3. Clean-up email at the end of each day. Remember, a cluttered inbox is the sign of a cluttered mind. Alleviate stress and jump into your day by waking up to a clean inbox the next morning.
  4. Schedule for the week ahead, not just the day ahead. Thinking only about the day before you does not allow for deeper strategic planning needed to accomplish larger, more meaningful projects. Planning for the week ahead allows you to think more deliberately, keeping a greater end result in mind while building in time for the necessary steps to get there. Sure, we always have to be flexible for unforeseen pressing matters, but these are generally the exception to the rule.

I know there are plenty more useful tips out there and welcome additional ideas. The main thing to remember is that the data supports the claim; succumbing to digital distractions markedly hinders our productivity and work product. With that in mind, we can all take steps to limit the distractions in a way that best suits our own working styles and environments. This way we can enjoy all the benefits of digital connectivity rather than be overwhelmed by them.