A big part of the coaching I do revolves around teaching people how to deal with, and tune out distractions. These days, everyone wants to be a multi-tasker, but in reality, dividing your focus won’t make you more successful. You need to be able to choose the most important task, complete it, and then move on to the next important task.
Being able to do 10 things at once is useless if nothing gets done, and especially if nothing gets done right. If you can effectively deal with distraction and complete your most important piece of work, you’ll be well on your way to success in any role you have.
Here are 14 ways to reduce or eliminate distractions:
1. Set a deadline
Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. When someone comes in you can say, “I have to get this report out by 2 P.M.. Can this wait until then?” You’d be surprised how well setting an artificial deadline can work.
It’s like the old saying goes:
“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.”
2. Use a Timer
Some people find their productivity jumps when they start using a timer. This works because you’re setting a short-term deadline, but also because you are committing to doing your best work for a short period of time. Typical lengths of time would be 15, 30, or 60 minute blocks, but you can choose any length of time that suits your needs.
I use this technique with my primary mastermind group. We each have ten minutes to discuss our results and projections and look for suggestions. If anything more is needed, we book another time or do 1-on-1’s. It’s helps us get through a ton of information in a short amount of time.
A countdown timer can be found online, as small program for your computer, or as a built-in feature on many cell phones.
3. Close your door
I’m a proponent of having an open door policy for management, but like any rule, there are times when it’s beneficial to close the door and eliminate distractions.
I suggest setting aside a 30 minute to an hour block of time where you can completely focus on any situations that need your personal attention.
Once everyone realizes that you’re not to be disturbed during these short blocks of time, they will either take care of the situation themselves, or make a list of things to talk to you about after you’re done your closed door session.
4. Private office
This is a technique I’ve used and love. It goes beyond simply closing your door. You actually find an office in a back corner somewhere, so you’re not distracted by your phone and people don’t really know where you are. This puts you out of the hustle and bustle of the everyday life and it’s quiet too, so you’re forced to work.
I’ll usually take my laptop, turn off the Wi-Fi, mute the ringer on the phone (if there is one), and just start solving problems.
Sometimes I’ll take a huge sheet of flip chart paper with me, so that I can plan and prepare for any important activity that I’m working on. I love it.
5. Turn off email
I don’t want you to freak out on me when I suggest this. I know you’ve probably already heard this tip a million times, but you’ve probably ignored it…..until now.
If you turn off your e-mail for an hour or two at a time (that's right…a whole hour), you will find a nice bump to your productivity. You won’t be distracted by minimally important emails, and you’ll soon realize that much of what you thought was URGENT, can probably wait an hour before being worked on.
6. Create an “Always Answer” list
Create an Always Answer list and then resolve to only take phone calls from those people when you’re doing some focused work. You can call everyone else back in 20 minutes when you're done.
I created the concept of the Always Answer list because I hear from my client’s that there are still some calls they absolutely have to take. For instance, I’ll always answer calls from my wife, even if it’s during one of my time blocks. She knows how important my blocks of time are to me, so she’ll keep the call short, make fun of me for being a productivity geek, and then say goodbye.
A list like this ensures that the people who need to get hold of you for something crucial are able to. Everyone else will just go to voice mail. You can return their phone calls at a later time.
7. White Noise Machine
Some people use white noise machines very effectively. They’re the little machines (or programs on your computer/smart phone) that create a variety of sounds including waves, streams, thunder storms.
My wife and I use one when we have people over in the evenings. You see, my two year old daughter is a light sleeper so we often turn on the white noise machine in the hallway so it produces the sound of a babbling brook. The background noise helps disguise distracting noises from us talking and helps keep her dreaming sweet dreams.
My friend Veronica swears by the “chirping birds” selection she listens to while she works.
8. Have a Scheduled Break to Do “Stuff”
Have a pre-made time to go around and take care of all the “not so important things” you’d like to do. This includes activities that aren’t productive, but might be fun. You could go chat at the water cooler or head over to the coffee shop next door.
Ideally, you would put one of these “stuff” sessions after an important block of work. You can use it like a carrot to encourage yourself to work hard, since the fun will come as soon as you’re done.
9. Make a list
If you’re working and you suddenly remember an activity that has to be completed, simply add it to a list (computerized or pen and paper).
Writing down a task does two things. First, it acknowledges the thought and clears your mind so you can back to work quickly. Secondly, it creates a list of important actions that you can work on later.
10. Find out What Distracts You
Different people are distracted by different things. Some stare out at the clouds, others keep checking Facebook status updates. Whatever it is, see what types of things distract you and simply eliminate them from your work environment.
11. Get Up Earlier
I’ve been getting up at 5 A.M. lately (that’s early for me) and find it gives me extra time to get important jobs accomplished. The house is quiet and there’s nothing going on to distract me.
I’m really more of an evening person, but I’ve found a lot of value in creating personal time in the morning. I remember when I used to work at 6 A.M. It was nice to know that my day was officially over at 2 P.M. and then I could do whatever I wanted.
This isn’t for everyone, but you might want to give it a try. Believe me when I say it’s hard at first, but if you can get used to it, you’ll definitely get results.
12. Stay Hydrated and Properly fuelled
Eat and drink before you go to work so your brain and body are ready to go. Visit the little boys'/girls’ room to make sure you don’t have any personal emergencies once you begin. If you’ll be making phone calls, you might want to have some water handy, in case your throat gets dry.
13. Get off email/RSS lists
I regularly go through my RSS lists and trim any extra feeds that are no longer sending me relevant info. I’ve completely removed myself from any email newsletters. They are more reactionary and they clog up my inbox. Years ago I switched everything to RSS feeds. I still check them multiple times per day, but I can better control the content I’m viewing, as opposed to having new emails come in and buzz my phone. Of course, Heaven forbid that you would ever leave the YoureMakingMe.com list.
14. Write out a plan
Having a written list is an excellent way to avoid distractions. When you know exactly what you’re going to do, it is much easier to do it. Besides, as you complete the various activities, you get to put a check mark beside it. That alone might keep you energized, because one of the most satisfying things a person can do is tick off a completed task.
Feel free to add any other easy ways to deal with distractions that aren’t on this list.