A few years ago I crossed paths with a personal finance concept called the Latte Factor and recently, I’ve drawn some parallels between it and my experience with constant distractions.
The general idea behind the Latte Factor is that frequent small purchases over 20 or more years end up being a very large amount of money. Apply some standard potential investment returns on that money, and that amount gets even larger. You can play with some numbers at the link above to learn more about that.
It’s quite alarming to see how much money those small purchases could have added up to had we spent it on investments instead of coffee or whatever else. While I do see buying coffee as a life enhancement for several reasons, I can see the author’s point. We often trade these frequent four and five dollar purchases for what could be major progress towards financial independence.
What I’ve found is the Latte Factor concept can be applied to our energy and stress levels throughout the day.
While it may not seem like much, each small distraction takes a chip out of our block of focus and productivity for the day. At first a text message from a friend, then an email alert. A phone call, a google chat ping then an interruption from a coworker stepping into the office.
Individually, small distractions don’t seem like much, but with most modern apps requesting the ability to send us notifications for just about anything, the collective effect can be devastating. It significantly adds to stress levels and dampens our ability to focus on the important tasks in life.
Each time we reach into our pocket to check social media while trying to focus—every time we twitch—it takes a small piece of us with it. It takes a piece that we don’t get back until the next day when we get to try all over again. It’s the difference between a leak slowly eroding away a house’s foundation versus a hurricane tearing the roof off. The hurricane is much more obvious, but both eventually destroy the house.
Focus and sound decision-making is a limited resource; it’s something we cannot create more of it once we run out each day.
It has been proven that the more decisions we make each day the worse we get at making them. Every alert is a small decision of whether we should give it our attention. A questioning of our priorities, having to decide if whatever that could be is more important than what we’re working on.
Six months ago I met up with my friend Matt to have lunch together. My phone was absolutely blowing up, interrupting our conversation several times over the hour-long meal. He asked to see my phone, and proceeded to turn off every single audible notification on my iPhone. It was very strange at first, in fact it made me quite nervous to think about all the messages I might not get right away.
Then, something changed.
A layer of stress caused by constant distractions—that I didn’t even know I had—evaporated overnight.
I hadn’t a clue about how much stress those constant alerts and notifications was creating in my life. It’s hard enough to stay focused on difficult tasks without constant distractions, but even more stressful with them.
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In normal mode, only text messages and phone calls will make sounds. No apps can send me any audible alerts at any time and honestly there’s no reason any apps should. When I flip the ‘silent mode’ switch the phone is completely silent—no vibrations, no alerts, no sounds, nothing. That’s exactly where I want my attention to be when I’m working on a project. When I’m sitting with you at lunch, I want to be present and not constantly being distracted by alerts on my phone and wondering who could be trying to reach me.
Part of minimalism and breaking the twitch is giving our full attention to the people and activities that matter most to us.
We can’t do that if we’re constantly being distracted by things outside of our control.
In the end, I decided that I wanted to have control over when I’d give my attention to various things on my phone as opposed to the other way around. Life comes with its own distractions and decisions; there is no need to add artificial ones.
While each small distraction might not feel like much, try removing them from your life and see how you feel. I promise that the results will be profound.