Learning something fast requires concentration. In order to make sense of a new subject, you must be able to really wrap your brain around it. The same is true of coming up with a new strategy for a perplexing sales problem or figuring out how to enter a new market.

Distractions of any sort slow your absorption of new material. Every time you wander off topic, you waste time getting your head back into the task at hand. Yet most sellers are totally oblivious to the #1 distraction of all: checking email. Research shows that the average smartphone user checks his messages every six and a half minutes. Personally, I struggle with the same temptation when working on my computer.

Take a minute to take stock of your email habits throughout the workday:

    • When was the last time you checked email? ____ minutes ago
    • If you get an alert, how long before you check it? ____ minutes
    • Do you get twitchy if you haven’t checked email for a while? Yes | No

The pull of email is strong, especially when you’re struggling to learn something new. It gives our poor, overworked brain a little relief to mindlessly scroll through our messages. And we feel like we’re accomplishing something when we send off a reply. We may even feel more productive this way.

But we couldn’t be more wrong. We’re only lengthening our path to proficiency in our chosen subject and decreasing our productivity. We’re learning slower, remembering less and not accessing our best thinking.

As I write this, my email program is turned off. It has to be. I can’t stand seeing that little icon that tells me I have 5 messages I haven’t read. It seduces me when I need to focus on the work at hand.

I’ve deactivated email notifications on my cell phone for the same reason: to resist the temptation to check each new message as it arrives. If I allow that to happen, I get sucked down a rabbit hole. I convince myself that it’s imperative to respond immediately, that my prospect friend or colleague is anxiously awaiting my answer. (She’s not.) It’s just my blasted ego telling me I’m that important. (I’m not.)

Be smart, especially when you need your wits about you. Turn off your cell phone entirely for certain periods of time. You’ll quickly discover that your prospects won’t evaporate into thin air and that your customers can wait—an amazing concept!

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Jill Konrath is the author of SNAP Selling, Selling to Big Companies and Agile Selling. If you’re struggling to set up meetings, click here to get a free Prospecting Tool Kit.