By Rebecca Faith
My previous posts in the Productivity series focused on ways to improve productivity by putting your brain in work mode, by taking care of yourself physically, and by future-casting and scheduling. This topic deals with the most effective way to derail your productivity: chasing butterflies.
Butterflies Are Harmless Beauties, Aren’t They?
No. They are evil witches dressed in gossamer costumes intended to fool you and draw you into a bottomless pit of lost time. A butterfly is anything that flits across your sight line and draws your attention away from the business at hand. These wispy temptations flutter by at an alarming frequency through the electronic tools we need to do our work—a double-winged assault on our time and productivity.
Have you, like me, sat down to read your Bible and a notification on your phone caught your attention? Did you pick up the phone “just to read one thing” and before you know it an hour has passed, it’s past time to start work, and you haven’t read a single Bible verse? Or you decide to read a few news stories from your phone while taking an afternoon coffee break, but the next thing you know it’s time to start dinner and you never made it back to your desk? One peek at an electronic butterfly more often than not grabs me by the throat and steals my focused work time. Whether they come from my smartphone, my desktop, or my television, they are insidious.
These are the very tools of my work, yet they have strong potential to kick me off track. We have wonderful tools to make editing so much more efficient than our predecessors, but I posit that society as a whole is more distracted than ever before. The responsibility for keeping the butterflies corralled and behaved rests squarely on me, and unless and until I get down and dirty with distractions, all my best intentions, my best business plan, and my best schedule will be useless.
Block the Butterflies
Solutions to the proclivity to chase butterflies must come from each individual because each of us knows where the butterflies show up in our lives, but here are a few ideas:
- Let your family members and friends know your work hours. Set the expectation that you won’t answer phone calls or texts during those times. Set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” when you want to work. My iPhone allows me to silence all notifications except those I must see, such as a call from a child’s school or an elderly parent’s caregiver. Hide alerts to group texts and group chats.
- Use whatever means necessary to make sure you get your act together in the morning to be at your desk at the time your schedule says to be there. We may not have to punch a time clock, but we can’t be productive if we aren’t punctual to our home office.
- If you play computer games, get them off your work computer or do whatever it takes to remove the temptation to play “just a few minutes to relax.” A few minutes of relaxing solitaire is never either of those things.
- Keep open on your work computer only the browser pages and files you need to do the work at hand. It’s very easy to see a new email or notification on the file tab and get sucked into lost minutes finding out what it is. Be ruthless in separating from social media during your work hours. Do whatever it takes to avoid checking Snapchat, Facebook, or X except during specified times when you aren’t working.
What strategy works best to keep you from chasing electronic butterflies? Perhaps you can share them in the comments.
Raising a border wall against distraction takes work and practice, but it can be done. As with any discipline, the more we consciously work at it the more proficient we become. In the same way, the longer we nurture a bad habit, the harder it becomes to kick. Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project, claims that “the more we allow ourselves to be distracted, the more diminished our capacity for absorbed attention becomes over time. Much like an unused muscle, our attention grows weaker and shorter with disuse.”
I’m presently struggling with these butterflies. This was a difficult and convicting piece to write.
 Tony Schwartz with Jean Tomes and Catherine McCarthy, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance (New York: Free Press, 2010), 190.
Rebecca began editing engineering papers in 2010 through a providential set of circumstances that taught her to never underestimate what God can do. Although she still edits for the engineering client, she also edits nonfiction Christian material for individual clients, an independent publisher, the Truth For Life radio ministry, and a wide variety of nonfiction topics for university presses, PhD students, a laboratory press, and independent authors.
Rebecca lives in northeast Ohio and is active in her church and rural community. You can contact her at email@example.com.