When working with small businesses and solo-preneurs like myself, I meet a lot of folks dealing with a common challenge they all would love to turn around: distractibility, project drift, and a general lack of sustained focus. Sound like you? You’re not alone: studies have revealed that nearly 50% of U.S. employees say they work for only 15 minutes before becoming distracted. And in a recent Microsoft survey, workers reported an average of only three productive days per week. Yikes!
In today’s highly-connected, instant-gratification world where multi-tasking is the only way of life, the lure of doing it all at every single moment of the day is clearly too great for many to resist. Following below are a few of my favorite tips to help keep distractions at bay and you on task:
Think, then act: Keep your daily goals and tasks in front of you at all times so you know you are on target and spending your time wisely. Break projects or tasks into realistic steps for the day and get on it! Creating To-Do lists are the magic bullet to beating time robbers, distractions and keeping you on track to getting things done. They are like roadmaps for the day and week. Follow the map, you get to your destination.
Go on lock down: When you have high-priority, time-sensitive projects on your To-Do list that require total concentration, take ownership of your time. Block out a period of time, place the phone on Do-Not-Disturb, ignore email, and respectfully communicate to others that you need focused time to work on a specific project during that time frame. Not only does this reduce interruptions and remove potential distractions, it gifts you that time you didn’t think you had to make significant headway on projects.
Structure email & voicemail time: One of the biggest day-to-day distractions comes from email and the phone. Messages are coming in to you all day long, and being the excellent, responsive person you are, you answer everything as it comes in. The problem is, when you’re answering everything as it comes, you’re not focused on the task you were working on before you leaped into action to respond to these welcomed distractions. Set specific times of the day to check emails and voicemails, and thoughtfully respond, as well as answer new incoming calls. For instance, I like checking emails and returning calls after my first hour on the job, then again just before lunch and one more time late afternoon. This keeps responsiveness high, while not getting derailed off priorities.
Limit your online wanderlust: The temptation to wander online, check the news, or go on Facebook is incredibly high when taking breaks from work projects. The problem: getting back to work! Psychology Today conducted a survey which concluded respondents spent an average of 1 hour and 44 minutes of their workday surfing the web. That adds up to one whole day per week! Set a time limit for yourself when taking an online break, such as checking Facebook or personal email for only 10 minutes. All those “likes” will be waiting for you when you clock out, and you won’t have to worry about putting in overtime because you couldn’t resist writing a lengthy diatribe about hidden corn syrup solids in your child’s school cafeteria food during work time.
Get organized: Make sure your desk is ready to work when you are. Keep office supplies all within reach. And use vertical wire desktop file organizers to keep active projects neatly accessible. Desktop clutter is a major distraction—you waste time looking for files or notes while also facing a daily visual nag to clean up the mess, which can quickly grow into an nagging mental distraction.
Has distractibility been a challenge for you? What do you do about it? Feel free to share your tips or experiences in the comment section below.