By Hayley Robins, Senior Accountant at Hive Business
Our clients are very busy people, and so are we, but in your own life it’s not always obvious when ‘good busy’ turns into ‘bad busy’: drifting off task, burning energy for little or no strategic purpose. Sound familiar? It’s easier to spot in other people, from the outside looking in, as it were.
There are some biological reasons that explain why human beings are prone to drifting off task — and they are very prone. A Microsoft study tracking how knowledge workers spent their time and attention in front of a computer found that they were, on average, distracted every 40 seconds. A well known study from the University of California Irvine also tracked workers and found it took them an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after they were interrupted.
These numbers can’t be true for everyone otherwise no one would ever get anything done, but they hint at what we’re up against in the age of email and pinging smartphones. We’re hardwired to respond to anything pleasurable, threatening or new, which is known as the novelty bias, and what could be newer and more potentially pleasurable or threatening than that mysterious email landing in your inbox?
We all need at least some protection from these distractions, however that looks. It could be the life hacker Tim Ferriss’s idea of only checking emails twice a day, and scheduling those times in. It could be setting yourself deadlines for tasks and working in short productive batches on only one thing. You could try the Pomodoro Technique, where you work for 25 minutes on a single task, then take a five minute break to recharge, which helps you ‘monotask’.
But I see a deeper challenge peculiar to dentists. People say the opposite to distraction is focus, but that’s not true. It’s traction, a word that comes from the same Latin root and means to pull, to take action. When you are in the moment and you become distracted by something that feels compelling you can fool yourself into thinking you’re being productive, but is your work creating traction for your overall purpose?
Dentists who have one or two sites that are underperforming distract themselves by buying a third site because it feels good. Rather than persevering, they want the dopamine fix of the next thing. Some practice owners on the other hand spend too much time and energy looking at overheads and negotiating lab bills. This is good but minor, it doesn’t need to be them doing it — they’d be better off looking at bigger issues like clinician performance, financial systems or their tax structure. Spending hours negotiating a 2% saving on the yearly lab bill isn’t the right use of their time.
By the way, I’m no different; I prefer to do things I’m competent at and comfortable with. It’s human nature to put off the hardest challenges, but we have to try to face the things that deep down we know we need to do. That’s the good thing about our consultancy service — you get that support from us to keep pushing you towards traction and away from distraction.