You might call them "distractions". Maybe you call them your "to-do list". Whatever words you use, they're the things that keep pulling you away from what you should be doing right now. These habits require your reaction, and they get in the way of real productivity. Photo by Mark Hunter.
Speaking to tips blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Georgetown professor Cal Newport explains how reactive habits demand our attention. When Facebook buzzes to let you know there's something you need to respond to right now, or when you have something on your mental to-do list that you need to remember to do now, your brain pulls resources away from what you should be focusing on:
It might seem harmless to take a quick glance at your inbox every ten minutes or so. But that quick check introduces a new target for your attention. Even worse, by seeing messages that you cannot deal with at the moment (which is almost always the case), you'll be forced to turn back to the primary task with a secondary task left unfinished. The state that almost every knowledge worker spends their day in is a terrible state if your goal is to actually focus with any intensity. I think it's the equivalent of having a professional athlete who's coming to most games hungover.
If you want to get a better handle on those reactive tasks, put them in their proper place. Close the Facebook tab until a time designated for dealing with social media. Stop replying to every email the second you get it (or at least only prescribe that level of urgency to the ones that are actually urgent). The less you're reacting to other people's priorities, the more you can focus on your own.
How To Focus: 5 Research-Backed Secrets To Concentration [Barking Up the Wrong Tree]