A set of studies at the University of California found that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes at work. Research shows it can take 10 - 18 minutes to regain focus after a distraction, although some studies indicate it takes an average of 23 minutes for workers to return to a task after an interruption. I am not a mathematician, but my rough math tells me that doesn't leave much time for actually getting things done. Distractions rob us of productivity.
Here are strategies to limit the negative impact of distractions:
- Turn off tech-related notifications. Every one of those pings and dings jerks your thought-process around like a ping-pong ball. Stop the pop-ups that are designed to tell you when you get a new comment on social media. Deactivate previews of newly received email messages. When you need to focus, set your smartphone to silent and remove the vibrate that goes with silent mode. Schedule time for handling calls, social media and emails when it works best for you, and, for folks that do require an immediate response (like key account clients or your direct supervisor), make them VIPs so you can utilize Do Not Disturb on iOS and Priority Mode on Android.
- Wear noise-reducing headphones. Particularly when you need to focus on strategic thinking or creative production, it's imperative to block out all the excess noises around you. The tool of noise-reducing headphones can block out what's happening around you, even if you have no music playing and simply utilize the visual of you wearing headphones to discourage others from disturbing or interrupting you.
- Delete the clutter. Excess in your workspace, too many emails coming into your inbox, stacks of paper and the loads of documents saved on your computer's hard drive can all act as distractions, pulling you away from what matters most. Having less means fewer things to detract from your desired results.
- Schedule tasks that fulfill your goals. Burnout comes from actions being out of alignment with priorities, and being distracted can be a symptom of burnout. Regularly perform a time audit for optimum output, making certain your actions properly align with what matters most to your specific priorities.
- Focus on working intently for shorter durations. When you break projects into smaller, bite-sized actions, you can work to complete each of those individual tasks step-by-step. You'll feel empowered to achieve each task's goal in a single work session, thereby having more rewards for staying on track to succeed with wins for finishing each of these mini-milestones.
- Utilize a timer. Some individuals or teams use a timer to simply get started, setting it for 15 minutes or so and capitalizing on the momentum created by that rush to keep pushing toward completion of the task at hand. Others like using a timer to stay on track, setting it for different intervals throughout the time required for a task's completion and making certain to still be working on the task at hand when the timer goes off at the end of each interval.
- Jot down unrelated thoughts as they pop up. Our brains are meant for thinking, not remembering; therefore, each time we attempt to use brain cells for remembering, it steals our ability to think better. Document those ideas, to-do items or brilliant thoughts so you don't lose them and they don't detract from your efforts to keep getting work done.
- Capitalize on your energy cycles. Output flows more easily and distractions are less impactful when we're in a groove and our most energized. Therefore, take a moment of self-assessment to decide when your energy level is at its peak and, then, schedule how to attack your most challenging work at this time of day when your abilities flow most freely.
- Limit the impact of folks who drop by. If you have an extra chair in your office, make sure it has something resting in it to keep others from sitting down to chat or position it somewhere more difficult to access so it's less inviting for visitors to setting in and stay awhile. When someone comes into your office without an appointment, stand up and move towards your door, conveying to the visitor that it is not a convenient time. Keep an outbox near your office door so you can take those items down the hall as someone is coming to your office, always encouraging those that make unplanned visits to schedule an appointment for later. You want to help them, but it has to fit into your schedule for you to give that individual your undivided attention without negatively impacting efforts to do your work.
- Work remotely when needed. While a library might help, research suggests the sounds of a coffee shop act as "white noise", helping you block out everything around for the greatest uninhibited productivity. New surroundings can boost concentration. For an added increase in your productivity, leave your laptop's charging cord at work or home, and work more efficiently so you can accomplish everything requiring your computer before its battery loses all of its juice.
- Implement delegation and automation. If someone else can complete a task more efficiently or as effectively as you, cut back on the distractions from trying to do it all on your own by delegating those tasks. Likewise, stop worrying about getting done what you can program technology to do automatically, removing the distractions of trying to remember all those additional tasks by automating what you can.
- Resolve what's weighing on your mind. Problems, conflicts, issues and decisions to be made all take up space in our minds, adding a psychological burden and popping back up in our thoughts at the most inopportune moments. Once those are resolved, they stop coming back into our thought-processes, allowing us to better focus on what needs our attention more.
What distracts you most often? What tactics have you found most successful for keeping yourself organized, focused and productive amidst all of your distractions?