If you feel like you are getting nothing done, the culprit might be distractions. We spend our days constantly connected to email, texts, social media, and phone calls. It's not uncommon to lose hours just replying to email or Facebook posts! If you work in an office, you may find that well-meaning coworkers keep dropping by to ask "a quick question." At home, kids and spouses can interrupt us. Try these tips to beat distractions and get more done.
Turn off email
We think we need to respond right away to every message, but we don't. Email used to be the way to communicate non-critical information. Usually our "need" to reply is a habit - and one you can break. Try turning your email off for set times, perhaps 30 minutes, while you focus on a task.
Silence your phone
Our phones are almost always with us. When they ring (or we get a text) we tend to reply immediately. Try keeping your phone on silent while at work. You can check it at regular intervals, but you won't be distracted by it ringing.
Headphones can be a great visual cue that you don't want to be interrupted. Listening to music while working can help block unwanted sounds, too.
Visual distractions can come from clutter. When you see clutter, your mind wanders to unread books, unwashed laundry, and other unfinished tasks. It can also disrupt concentration. Keeping your office space organized and tidy can actually make it more productive.
Use a 'Do Not Disturb' sign
Troubled by coworkers who stop by for a quick chat? Got a spouse or child that always needs something when you are deep in a task? Try a simple sign. It can take 20 minutes to refocus on a task after an interruption. Calculate the number of interruptions times twenty to see the value of stopping interruptions.
Shut off instant messaging
This can be hard if your job requires you to be available all the time. Talk to your manager about setting up specific times when you are unavailable via messaging. If they seem unwilling to allow this, calculate your lost productivity to show the benefits.
Go for a walk
Getting away from your desk and taking a quick walk can be a great way to clear your head. Try this tactic if you need time to brainstorm ideas. You can quickly jot down a voice memo, type a note, or take a picture with your phone as you get out. But be sure to turn off the ringer to avoid that distraction!
Sadly, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to interruptions. Our family and colleagues often feel it is okay to interrupt because we have not stopped them. Setting clear boundaries can be a big help. When you are interrupted, try saying you are busy and offer another time to chat.
Schedule tasks on a calendar
Many people complain they simply don't have enough time. Usually it is a case of not making time, and allowing other things to come first. Try blocking out 30 minute slots on your calendar to work on tasks. Treat this just like an appointment - and keep it. Another tactic is to block 30 minutes before meetings for prep time. This will help avoid the last minute scramble.
Set a timer
If you are having trouble staying focused and need to respond to emails, answer calls, or meet with customers, try using a timer. Even 15 minutes of solid uninterrupted time can make a dent in a task. One of my favorite techniques is the Pomodoro Technique. You set a timer for 25 minutes, work entirely on one task during that time (no phone calls, no email, no messaging, etc) and then take. 5 minute break.
If you are still struggling with distractions after trying these tips, try keeping a log of your distractions to see if you can spot patterns.