3. Specific Defense Ideas
Okay. We’ve identified the ideal and labeled some of our distractions. How do we minimize these so we can get more work done? Most times, we can’t just eliminate the distractions, but rather have to redirect them, minimize and organize them. Doing so requires forming new habits. I’ve got several ideas to do so.
This is a hard one initially. Turn your cell phone off for half the day. If at all possible, try to unplug. It will eliminate texts, voicemails, phone calls, notifications and the temptation to access the mobile internet. Try it. Seriously, you’ll be amazed at how many distractions are removed from this act alone.
If it’s not possible, then put it in a drawer and check it every hour or so. Any way you can minimize your exposure to your little digital mistress, the better you’ll be able to focus on the task at hand. You can attend to the issues delivered via your phone during the second half of the day, but for 4 hrs, try to leave it alone.
Close the Tab and Walk Away
In the spirit of the the above defense mechanism, try minimizing the number of tabs you have open. Especially, the tab with your email program running. Try spending half your day with your email tab closed and see how free you feel. Free to create. Free to concentrate. Free to focus.
Let people know what you’re trying to do- working hard to focus for half the day on individual work. Your boss will love your attempt at increased productivity. If you’re the boss, others will soon follow your example. Creating a brand of focus is like branding anything else – you want to give it a catchy name and logo and talk about it everywhere. More specifically try to:
Give your focus time a name: I like to say something like, “I’m in my focus cave right now” in an attempt to brand what I’m trying to do. It makes it easier for others to understand, respect and remember. You may call it your ‘Half-n-half’, ‘Productivity Zone’, or anything else that speaks to hard work with laser like focus.
Hang a sign: Print of a paper that says something like; “In the Zone” or “In My Cave.” Others will quickly pick up on what you’re trying to do. They will probably tease you about it, but if you own it they’ll learn to respect what you’re attempting to do.
Bring it up: Refer to your time whenever possible, such as, “Can this wait until after my cave time, or is is urgent?” or “I’ll schedule the meeting right after I’m done being in the zone.”
Stick to your daily time: If you’ve decided to make your focus time in the mornings, stick to it- others will quickly learn when it’s best to request your time and talents. Family, friends and co-workers will learn your timing and it will become as much a part of the brand as the name you give it.
Deflect with ‘No, But…’
When possible and appropriate, say “No, but…I can as soon as I’m done with my Cave Time!” Don’t be afraid to put people off, unless its actually urgent. Kindly saying no to requests will help others learn when is the best time to reach out to you. If you are professional and consistent, others will learn to respect your efforts to focus.
Steve Jobs believed in saying no. His comments about focus for a department, product or business relates perfectly to dealing with requests from colleagues. Listen as he emphasizes the need to say no.
Obviously, this will sometimes be difficult to say to those in authority, but don’t be afraid to say, “Is there a way your request can wait until after 1:00 so I can give it my 100% focus?” The more you reinforce your desire to focus, the more others will want that focus directed in their direction and to the tasks they ask you to do.
Physically Move It, Then Move On:
There are many tasks that are sprung on you that are not necessarily time sensitive, but are being assigned right in the middle of your focus time. Your boss probably isn’t going to wait until it’s convenient for you to ask you to do something. However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be done right at this moment. In these cases, it’s often helpful to put the task on your to-do list and then get back to your work.
I find this to be the case with emails. Someone will say, “I just sent you over an email. Will you look at that?” Then, I can go in, check my email, add it into a folder, or onto my task list, see it’s not time sensitive and then I move away from it. I move it aside and then move on. Everyone has a different process for this, but I’m actually a little old school here. For example, I will print the email out, add any handwritten notes and then put it on a far corner on my desk. A strange process, I know. But, I like to write down any notes, remove the email tab from my computer (see above) and then physically move the task into a different workspace and out of my immediate view. I’m sure there are much better methods for managing email tasks, but over the years, this is one that’s worked for me, while allowing me to quickly organize and deflect distractions.
Send a Non-Verbal Message
The passive-aggressives among us may not want to stand up and say, “Leave me alone, people, I’m trying to get some work done!” A more subtle approach may be more your style. Some non-verbal messages may be enough to deflect those looking to distract you, or at least give them pause and help vette out non-essential questions and issues. Let everyone know, in the nicest way possible, that you are hard at work. Consider:
– Closing your door, if you have one.
– Putting on headphones- the larger the headphones the stronger the message, trust me, this works!
– Position your desk or chair facing away from other people, if at all possible.
– Block out time on your calendar. It’s a less in-your-face method of letting others know you’re busy.
Delegate or Deal:
Finally, even after all your efforts, you’ll have tasks that have to be done right away. Fires that need to be put out. When you can, ask someone else to handle the work immediately. If this isn’t an option – you’ll probably just have to deal with the situation. Despite your best efforts to compartmentalize your day, urgent matters will come up. However, double check to make sure these assignments are actually urgent – and not just the squeaky wheel clambering to get the grease. As you apply some of these habits, you’ll find the number of tasks that you actually have to complete right away will slowly grow less, helping you get ahead of your workload while giving the work you have the required focus and attention.
Remember, constant distractions are a reality we can’t avoid. We’re rarely going to get a half day without any distractions at all. However, if we actively turn off our phones whenever we can, close our email browser tab, send consistent messages to family and co-workers that we’re trying to focus, ask others if the tasks can wait, give our focus time a name and brand and organize tasks and then move on and delegate when possible, we should find ourselves only dealing with a fraction of the distractions that beg for our time and attention.
I know this isn’t an exhaustive list or an answer to everything, but applying these principles and forming new habits will help. In fact, I’ve been actively working towards it for months now, and average only about 2 hrs. each day of uninterrupted private work time. I still have a long ways to go, but I already seen my personal productivity rise and the quality of my work improve.
Want More Ideas?
Check out some of these resources.
Gina Trapani is great on TWIG (This Week In Google), where she shares tips and tricks for using Google tools more effectively. Here she explains ‘Single Tasking’ and ‘Time Blocking’ for Fast Company:
What do you do to avoid distractions and get more work done during the day? Please be specific with your suggestions. Add a comment below and let us know what you do.