December 6, 2021


I’ve been thinking about workplace efficiency recently. Businesses have to adapt or face extinction. The last real estate investment firm to incorporate satellite and street imagery into their process simply won’t be able to compete. But if we’re not careful about how we use our tools, we’ll end up working for them.

The most powerful tools are also the most dangerous ones. With email, I can communicate instantly with the attorneys, investors, bankers, and everybody else I need to close a deal, no matter where they are. A simple online calendar means I can optimize my time, day by day, week by week. These same tools also are dangerous distraction traps.

My parents taught me to pay attention to what I’m doing, and that seems off color in the do-everything-at-once modern world. But doing many things disperses our energy in the same way that doing one thing focuses it. We don’t do our best work until we settle in, so every switch means lost time. Also, being too responsive is an anxious, unhealthy state of mind that leaves people constantly stressed out and rarely at peak performance.

Whether it’s digging into financial documents alone working through deal terms in a group, the result is better when I concentrate on what I’m doing. Too bad that little email notification box is so tempting. What if it’s important? I could use a break from what I’ve been doing. My mind gives a perfect automatic response. Do I stop what I’m doing to check it?

Email boxes and web browsers carry an immediate risk of falling into a distraction trap. These traps are everywhere, and most of us hit them several times a day. News about a favorite sports team, financial markets, or the weather offers a tempting break. But once we shift our attention, the internet is happy to keep serving up more and more of our favorite candy.

Some people are stuck in distraction traps where they can’t ever fully relax. My email to Joe bounces back an auto-response. I’m away from the office for the next week. If you need something urgently, contact my colleague David. After a moment of irritation, I remember that delays are normal, and it’s not important enough to contact David. Then Joe sends me an email. Sorry for the delay. I’m on vacation in Italy. . . Is Joe using his tools, or are they using him?

I want only good things for Joe and many more deals for years to come. So I hope he can relax enough to ignore a question that can wait. I hope he escapes the distraction trap before he burns out.

In the long game, doing big things requires months and years of diligent work by skilled professionals. I want them to be healthy, focused, and motivated by a healthy drive for success, rather than fear. I want colleagues who disconnect sometimes and always remember their priorities, even if that means my email has to wait.

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