Distraction is often seen as a negative thing, but Lindsey Wray, managing editor for the Military Officers Association of America, sees the potential positive in distraction. She spoke about this in the “Editing in the Age of Distraction” session at ACES 2021 Online.
“Distraction is not something you need to overcome, but something you can recognize and integrate into a productive routine,” said Wray.
Distraction is often seen as something so negative, but editors can utilize it to become even more productive than before. Distraction can offer an opportunity to refocus. It’s a chance to switch gears. It can be a way to break from monotony and a way to assert control over the situation at hand.
Wray mentions what she calls “Tech Breaks”. Although it may sound like tossing the cellphone aside and not looking at it, it’s actually the opposite. A tech break is taking a break to look at the phone for a few minutes.
This can be a time to reply to texts, scroll through Facebook, or do whatever for just a few minutes. This has been shown to be very effective in refocusing and having an overall deeper focus on work.
Brains need time to rest and consolidate information. Distractions give it that needed period of rest. Wray recommends trying to train the brain to focus on one task at a time. This can be accomplished by washing the dishes for five minutes or taking a quick shower. The key is to focus only on that one task, nothing else.
“Managing distractions strengthens our ability to tackle new challenges,” said Wray.
There are many things that can help editors to leverage distractions, but Wray recommends the following: Get up and move around. Short bouts of exercise (even something as simple as taking a walk) benefits the brain. Or simply do nothing. Just sit there and give the brain a rest. Or try cognitive exercises, like a word puzzle. Or even play a video game.
“Idleness makes us better at problem solving and generating creative ideas,” said Wray.
Another tactic would be to work in segments. Set a timer for five or ten minutes. When that time is up, take a break. This allows for full focus during the allotted time without having to worry about distractions.
If the break and the phone don't work to stem distraction, Wray has a few more suggestions. If the phone is the distraction, turn it off. Redouble efforts to focus on one thing at a time. Even if it’s just focusing on a singular sentence, devote all attention to it. Try writing a list. Getting thoughts on paper can be a good way to clear the mind.
Lastly, she emphasized that not every day is going to be a productive one. And that’s okay. Accepting that a day is not productive is healthy. It is okay to pause a task and go back to it at another time with a fresh, clear mind.
To go more in-depth, conference attendees can watch “Editing in the Age of Distraction” presented by Lindsey Wray on the ACES 2021 Pathable website. The session will be available to watch until July 31, 2021.