sterile cockpitFocus is pretty important, right? In fact in some jobs the ability to focus on the right thing at the right time can mean the difference between life and death.

Take pilots for instance. When landing an aircraft loaded with hundreds of passengers, it seems like a very good time to be thinking about nothing but getting the plane safely down on the correct runway, across the tarmac without incident and to the assigned gate.

That’s why in 1981 the FAA established the “Sterile Cockpit Rule”. This regulation prohibits crew members from performing “non-essential duties or activities while the aircraft is involved in taxi, takeoff, landing, and all other flight operations conducted below 10,000 feet, except cruise flight.”

Since the initiation of this regulation, studies have been done to determine whether non-adherence to the rule has been at the root of aviation incidents both significant and minor. (It bears mentioning that non-adherence to the Sterile Cockpit Rule is usually not intentional.) Four general categories of distraction are mentioned as reasons the rule is violated.

  1. A casual conversation started above 10,000 feet continues into descent
  2. A flight attendant unexpectedly visits the cockpit or calls on the interphone
  3. Non-essential radio calls and PA announcements
  4. Sight-seeing.

So why does this matter to you if you’re not a pilot (or passenger)?

Because  your jobs is important too, even if you aren’t making life and death judgment calls. You’re faced with the same types of distractions all day every day. And those distractions can exact a heavy cost. Any of these focus-killers sound familiar…

  1. Casual conversations that make you late for meetings
  2. Interruptions by support staff and co-workers forcing you to disengage from your project and re-engage minutes later, often at a cost disproportionate to the reason for the interruption
  3. Non-essential phone calls and e-mails
  4. Surfing the web
  5. Multitasking (Not the same thing as managing multiple projects, which you do need to do well.)

Does that mean it’s supposed to be all work and no play? Of course not. Even the FAA says the regulation was not established to eliminate all non-essential activities at all times. Just to prohibit those activities at critical points during flight operations. Same in your office. You need to have very clear boundaries when it comes to focus and shutting out distractions that can compromise productivity and ultimately erode profitability.

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