Beware the Distraction Devil

Posted on November 15, 2011


People are just too kind at work! No really they are. You may think you’re not because you don’t slave away on the weekend baking cookies that children can only dream of, only to bring them into work for your work colleagues, but you probably give something even more valuable. Your time and focus. These two things are a valuable commodity in today’s world. Billions of dollars are thrown away to it each year in advertising, and gradually we’ve succumbed to the behaviour that mass marketing elicits; getting distracted. I’m a product of this because I fall foul of distraction constantly at work. I ask myself the question ‘now what was I doing?’ more often than an Apple fanboy says ‘I love you’ to his iPhone. Emails, phone calls, impromptu meetings; I fall for these suckers all the live long day but by 5pm, what have I got to show? Other than a lot of excuses, not much. Its time to reclaim our focus, put our productivity on steroids and get our things done!

I use a three pronged trident technique to defeat the distraction devil. The first prong being, to answer all emails and phonecalls fewer than 3 times a day. This means shutting down your email (eek!), letting your calls go through to voice mail and dealing with this stuff in batches. If your job is to answer the phone or you have a service level agreement for answering calls / emails quickly, then this doesn’t apply so much but for many office workers, this is realistic. For real emergencies, they can contact you on your work mobile. It might also help to have an automatic responder for your email saying that you do this (give polite and business justifiable reasons of course) and add this as part of your voicemail message. This helps me stay focussed on what I’m currently doing and I get my work done far quicker and to a higher standard.

The second prong is to simply make sure that as soon as I get into work, I build myself a task list of personal and work items I want to achieve that day. Make the list realistic and with each task, state it in a specific and actionable way(not something vague like ‘get work done’). I don’t like to have more than 4 or 5 work or personal items each day, any more than that and it becomes difficult to achieve. Having a list gives you clear goals and is a motivating tool when you start crossing items off the list.

The third and final prong is when you start these tasks, give yourself a super tight deadline to get it done by. Doing this gives you a healthy dose of pressure to ensure that you keep ticking along and it keeps you on track to make sure you’re not doing anything unnecessary to get the task done.

Another possible technique which, for some people, can be a huge productivity killer, is meetings. Have a quick gander of my post on this topic to at least make them worthwhile.

I now get a lot more work done and I, almost ashamedly, get a real kick out of crossing all the items off my list. When I went through implementing this I realised how much time I must have given to other people in replying to their emails quickly and responding to their ’emergencies’. You’re at work to get a job done, don’t let other people take that goal away from you.

Posted in: Productivity, Skills