What are the top eight ways to avoid getting distracted at work? Is there really a way to stay focused while you’re working and is it really possible, at all, not to lose focus and do some goofing off?
Do you start out each day with this wonderfully ambitious list of goals and, by the end of the day, you’ve found that you spend more time goofing off than anything? Yeah, me neither. And we’re both telling a lie.
So here are eight tips to avoid distractions and remain focused on your work.
Turn off the phone
Let’s face it, there are a ton of ways we all get distracted. The worst, for me, is my smart phone. It buzzes and beeps and screams, “hey, you. Look at me!” That can be work-related things or even the latest news on Aunt Bertha coming to you live from Facebook.
So mute the darned thing and put it in a drawer. In the back of a drawer. I see you looking for it - it just needs to go away. If your house is burning down you won’t learn about it on Facebook Messenger, they’ll call you and that’s what the work phone line is for.
Unfortunately there is good work-related stuff on that phone but more of it is what’s happening in your social world than anything, right? Okay so when you need to focus, do the drawer thing.
Turn off email
Unless you get mission-critical stuff via email, turn the program off and disable notifications. Yes, it is exciting when you get another 20% off coupon from Bed, Bath and Beyond but most of what comes via email is just something that can wait ‘till later. In fact 10 minutes later, as you’ll see further down this page.
If you have mission-critical work email you might consider leaving your notifications on for that and establishing a second personal email, such as a Gmail account, just for all those wonderful sales that you get notified of.
Keep a calendar
If you start your day with something as ethereal as “I’m going to spend an hour hunting down sales leads” but that’s the only goal, it’s not a goal because you’ll spend two hours looking at Facebook. Don’t believe me? Put a tracker on your phone and computer that tells you how much time you do this and that with it.
It certainly was an eye opener to me.
So if I want to spend an hour making sales calls, then it’s on my calendar. And if you’re not using a calendar that syncs between your computer and your phone then do that, too. Google Calendar is good, for example, as you can see it on any device. Add something while you’re on the road and it shows-up on your computer. Magic.
I’ve written a blog post all about using calendars so go check that out too.
You can’t call things a distraction unless you know what you’ve been distracted from.
Wait 10 minutes
When some alert or warning or notification comes in on your phone or computer give it 10 minutes. A lot of times we’re just like Pavlov’s Dog and feel we have to respond the moment something notifies us. But if you give it 10 minutes and it’s not still important, it can wait until you’ve allowed time for that task or response in the first place.
Of course if the building is burning down, GET OUT.
Oh, and this 10 minute rule is also helpful in diets. Craving a snack? Wait 10 minutes.
Sometimes even better than a calendar is a task management program. My favorite one is OmniFocus which syncs between my phone, laptop, desktop and tablet. It’s wonderful. It lets me set tasks, set due dates, add notes, images, and all sorts of things. Tasks can be timed, dated, and I can organize things however I wish into projects or larger tasks and that sort of thing.
Your coworkers are a problem
Do you know what the third leading cause of death is in the United States? People getting the wrong medication in hospitals. Do you know why? The people administering the medication get distracted.
So UCSF got bright yellow vests for those administering meds that read “Medication rounds in progress.” Guess what? The incidence of mistakes went down by 88%!
So, for you, it would be good to put up a sign or lock your door. Have a sign that reads, “I’m working - please come back at (insert a time). That way you’ll get that hour of sales leads down and, what I find is that I’m so thrilled with my progress I might spend another hour on the phone calling prospects and following up on leads.
Measure what you do
How’d you like to be horrified by how you spend your time? You’re that brave, eh? Okay.
Go sign up for something like Freedom or Focus or RescueTime or any of those apps that show you how you’re actually spending your time. You’ll be amazed. And, hopefully, you won’t just give up, move to the jungle and swing from the trees in frustration. It’s amazing how much time we all just waste.
Burn the ships
As the infamous Nike ads say, just jump in. Sometimes you can just plan and wish and hope yourself to the end. Or, as we shared previously, burn the ships.
I do a podcast about the RV life and, in speaking with someone about vintage trailers, he said that he has followers who have, for years, kept coming to events and hitting him up on social media saying “I’m still looking.” At some point perfection becomes the enemy, sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and swim.
Advice from whom?
For those of you who know me in person you’re going to be shocked that I would have the gall to write this blog post. If there were anyone who would be the poster child for shiny ball syndrome or squirrel disorder, I’m your man.
Knowing that, I also have to learn to accommodate my natural state or I wouldn’t get anything done. Like this blog post. Or the podcasts I do. Or anything else in my repertoire.
I also highly recommend a book that just came out about this called Indestractible - How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal.
If this is as big a problem for you as it is for me, this book will be a huge benefit. And, for those who also don’t have the patience to read, Nir has kindly come out with an audio version as well.