Distractions are one of the biggest killers of productivity and are something we're constantly exposed to. Distractions come in many forms: email, other people, family, pets, Facebook, Twitter, pop-up notifications… the list goes on. Finding focus in our noisy world is vital if you want to improve your productivity. Here are my top tips for managing distractions and getting more done each day. Let me know in the comments what you do to avoid distractions and get stuff done.
1. Use a Calendar to Block Out Sections of Time
Instead of keeping a to-do list by your desk and attempting to tick off jobs with no real plan, why not block out sections of time to complete each task? Starting with the most important task, allocate an appropriate amount of time for each task and work your way down the list. The beauty of this is that you're making a small commitment to yourself where you're promising to do something at a specific time within a given time frame. If you find yourself being tempted by Facebook or if someone interrupts, you can remind yourself of this commitment or politely reject the person (promising to get back to them later) and get back to the job at hand. When your day is filled with task orientated appointments like this you're forced to stay on track knowing that if you take too long, everything else will get pushed back and you won't achieve your daily goals. The visual image of your calendar is a great motivator and keeps you on track. Keep it open all day. Make sure you leave 15-30 minute sections of time in between major tasks where you can follow up with people, emails or phone calls.
2. Save Articles for Later Using Pocket
With the growth of social networks and smart phones there's now more content online than ever before and it's become a lot easier to access. Often you'll come across a great article or video and it might be genuinely useful and a great source of knowledge. But if you're not careful hours of time can slip by while you browse the web and consume media. I've previously written about how you can use Pocket to delay distractions for later. By adding the Pocket extension to Safari or Chrome, you can quickly save articles and come back to them during your down time. The great thing about Pocket is you can save them on one device, like your work computer and pick them up from your phone or tablet. I love being able to sit down in the evening and read or watch the things I've saved throughout the week. This means you can quickly remove distracting articles knowing that they're safe in Pocket for you to come back to when you're not working.
3. Physically Remove the Distractions
Sometimes “avoiding” distractions just isn't enough. The temptation of Facebook, Twitter and blogs can be too great. In which case, it's time to turn off the Wi-Fi. Don't just disable it on the computers settings, literally go and unplug the router if you can. Or if this isn't an option, find somewhere remote to work where there's no Wi-Fi. Studies have shown that ignoring distractions isn't enough to keep you focused. As you're consciously ignoring things like Facebook and email your willpower is drained and your mental energy is depleted. You have to physically remove the distractions altogether in order to truly focus.
4. Use the Pomodoro Technique and Count Distractions
The pomodoro technique goes like this:
1) Decide what you're going to work on.
2) Set a timer for 25 minutes. Some people prefer shorter or even longer pomodoros, but if you're new to this, start with 25 minutes.
3) Work solidly for the entire 25 minutes with the goal of only focusing on that one thing. Every time you get distracted, record a tally on a notepad.
4) After 25 minutes stop for about 5 minutes and take a micro-break. Get a glass of water, stretch, stop and think and then get back to it.
5) Repeat for another 3 pomodoros (for a total of 4) and then take a long break of about 30 minutes.
6) Rinse and repeat!
The pomodoro technique is a great method that gets you to focus on one goal for a short-period of time. As we're only talking about 25 minutes, it's pretty achievable. Half the challenge of managing distractions is recognising when you get distracted. By marking the tallies you will become more aware of what's causing the distractions in the first place. You also find that you start competing with yourself to try and reduce the number of tallies on the notepad for each pomodoro.
5. Stop Multitasking
Isn't it ironic that one of the things that can distract us from work is work itself? I recently finished reading “Manage Your Day to Day” by 99U and thought this was particularly interesting:
“Studies show that the only time you can effectively multitask is when you're doing automatic tasks like walking. For activities that require conscious attention, there's only task-switching.”
So, no more listening to Podcasts while you work. There's no way you can focus on the Podcast and produce your best work at the same time. Instead, save the Podcast for your next run or workout. Another way I like to prevent multitasking is to only keep open the tabs I really need within my browser. Close everything down, even your email and only use the websites that you really need for a piece of work.
6. Strengthen Your Willpower with Meditation
The final (and my favourite) way to manage distractions, is to meditate. Meditation has been proven to help improving your willpower by strengthening the part of the brain that controls your attention. I've written extensively about the benefits of meditation and how it can improve all aspects of your general well-being, not just productivity. As you meditate you'll learn how to be more mindful and will catch yourself quicker as your mind wonders off or if you start getting distracted.
So there you have it. My top suggestions for managing distractions. Good luck and stay productive!