This is a blog for all those people who find it hard to get important stuff done because they get distracted. Distractions are a key barrier to using your time effectively and productively – and this post forms part of my productivity philosophy.
This blog is going to talk about what we get distracted from, followed by what distracts us, then we’ll look at some strategies to deal with your distractions.
What do you get distracted from?
The first thing we need to understand is what we get distracted from. Some tasks are just distractible – as soon as you sit down to work at them your mind starts thinking about other things.
Grab a pen and paper and draw 5 circles. In these circles write examples of the tasks you get distracted from (as in fig 1). Don’t worry if you can’t think of 5 right now, a couple will do.
For me, doing a tax return has got to be one of the key activities that I get distracted from.
So what distracts you?
The next step is to understand what things distract you. For each of the five circles, write a brief list of the things that distract you from completing that task.
As you can see from fig 2, the key distractions for my tax return are “TV on in background”, “Facebook” and “Writing blogs”. Continue to write these lists for each of your tasks.
This mapping exercise is very useful – and helps us to form strategy 1. I refer to this as a Distraction Map in the rest of this post.
Strategy 1: Know Your Distractions
This strategy uses the distraction map you’ve just completed, and encourages a degree of self awareness. The key to this is minimising the distraction potential when you embark on a distractible task. Plan your time to do the task, and make sure you can’t be distracted.
For example when I do my tax return I ensure that I don’t do it in the living room (TV distraction), that I leave my Smartphone elsewhere (Facebook distraction) and that my blog notebook is hidden in a drawer somewhere.
These simple steps have placed a barrier between me and my distractions. I’m far less likely to be distracted now.
Oli Note: There’s nothing to stop me getting up from my chair and going into the living room, so you still need a good measure of self control for this strategy to work.
Strategy 2: Know Yourself
Are you a morning person? Or do you prefer evenings? Knowing when you are at your best is important to helping deal with distractions.
Say (like me) your best part of the day is between 08:00 and 09:00 when the office is nice and quiet. This is the time for you to work on the most important pieces of work.
My worst time is probably between 3-4pm; this is when I find myself most easily distracted.
For my best time I block time out in my diary – nobody else can have that time unless it is incredibly urgent and important. For my worst time I try to schedule meetings or use the time for planning or reflection.
Try to work out your best and worst times of the day, and plan your schedule around them.
Strategy 3: Ignore stuff
This is simple: ignore the ringing phone, close your inbox down, don’t have social media open, and zone out of peripheral conversations.
Easy to say, harder to do.
Strategy 4: Stay healthy
We are far more distractible when we are:
- Screen overload
- Caffeine or sugar high OR low
Make sure you eat properly, sleep properly, drink plenty of water, take breaks from your screen, laugh, and avoid short term stimuli like coffee and chocolate.
By recognising when you get distracted and what distracts you, you can learn to avoid these situations. Have a look at your distraction map you created earlier; what are you going to do differently?
Learn your patterns; when you work best and worst, and make sure you make the most of your best time. Finally ignore stuff and stay healthy, and I reckon you’re in pretty good shape!