How Work Distractions Affect My Focus
Madison Lukaczyk wanted to improve her focus by controlling her distractions. She had already blocked distracting web sites, but what about work related channels that nonetheless constantly interrupted her concentration? Using time-tracking data from RescueTime, exported to R Studio, she created visualizations that revealed how her workflow was affected by chat threads, emails, and texts.
R Studio | RescueTime
How Work Distractions Affect My FocusI want to start off with a quick question just to get us thinking on a similar page. Has anyone else kind of gone into work expecting to do one thing, focus on something, and you kind of end up just answering Slack messages or emails, or talking to colleagues. So I can tell you after doing this analysis I have maybe too many of these days.
And I realized as a data scientist, it’s important to me that I’m focusing on things like building algorithms, or dashboards and analysis. These exercises that utilize my core skills and continued to build me as a person, well that I want to be. And I take steps every day to make sure that I’m keeping focused on these things, like I’ve totally eliminated news, websites, social media sites during the day.
But then I have these things like business communication tools that are an essential part of my day, but they can also be a huge distraction from my more core difficult work. So I realized focus is something that I want to quantify for myself, because I want to keep myself in line and making sure that I’m focusing on what’s meaningful every day.
I’ve been tracking my data with RescueTime for several years, and it’s been talked about on here before. It’s a desktop application that you can download on your computer and it just reports back to you on what you’re doing throughout the day.
For this analysis, I took all the data that I tracked and brought it into R Studio to kind of take it to a different level. And the first thing that I want to do is check out of my total devised time every day, how much of it is actually spent on communication tools.
And I found it’s not too bad. It’s that 20%. It doesn’t seem awful, but I started thinking about how communication kind of comes into my day. It’s a distraction and decided to look at my day a little bit differently.
And here is just one hour of a random day, and what I ended up doing is for each block that you see represents five minutes. And every time you see a pink block, it represents a time where I ended up hitting Slack or emails during that time. And I did this for you guys because I feel it’s important to recognize that I may only spend five seconds on Slack, but it’s an indication that my attention has been diverted from my more important work.
And when I brought this view to a whole week level, I realized wow, you know, 40 to 60% of my day had email or IM kind of in my preview, and it didn’t leave a lot of time left for focusing. And further, I couldn’t tell if during that time I had left for focusing if I’m getting to a deep state that I want to be at.
So what I did is I took that focus and created a focus meter, and it’s pretty simple. I just increment my focus meter for every five minutes that I’m able to stay away from a communication tool. And as soon as I flip back to a communication tool, I zero out my focus meter.
And when I brought this view of the entire week, I realized wow, there are some days I just cannot focus. But I did find that on Saturday when no one is around to send me Slack or post things in Slack, that I could reach like three hours of focus. So that was good, but not great because this is something that I need to be bringing into my daily routine at work.
So, I decided to take that view and wrap it up even further into a focus score. And I created this focus score with this computation, where every hour that I spend focusing I give myself one point. And some days that can be kind of hard to reach, so I gave myself a quarter of a point for every 30 minutes focus that I reached. And every time I go past an hour, those every five minutes I give myself a bonus of a tenth of a point.
So this is what that week kind of looked like from the prior slide in terms of the focus score. And I can tell you that was a fairly good week because in the past two months you know, my focus meter has definitely gone up but it’s something that is fluctuating. And what I learned from this is that just having the score available to me helped me realize how kind of this shallow work of going to Slack can be really enticing when you’re trying to focus on something really difficult. Because Slack is still kind of work, right, but when I’m trying to figure out an algorithm it’s just so tempting to flip over to Slack. So it helped me become a lot more self-aware when I start feeling that feeling of, I don’t want to focus on this because it’s too hard.
So, I also realized that I have skill to focus on a weekend, so I should just be able to do that during the week. And just a couple of things that I have found that has helped my focus score so far is getting in a daily routine in the morning of just starting a focused session for myself and telling myself I don’t need to talk to anyone right now like, I have the full day to do that. I’ll get to it when I get to it. Eliminating notifications is super helpful, easy and yeah, just being able to reflect on the score has been really great.
So that’s about it. There’s my contact, and a couple of people I want to acknowledge because I wouldn’t have gotten this presentation to where it is now. A couple of great references if anyone is interested in learning more about the idea of focus, these books inspired this kind of thought process for me.