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How to Maintain Focus Even With Distractions

How to Maintain Focus Even With Distractions

I work from home and I can’t think of a place with more distractions than my messy, laundry-piled, pet-filled, toddler tornado of a home. There is always something else I could be doing, and there is often a chore I’m in the middle of, but somehow I’ve come up with a system that allows me to maintain focus at “work” even though there’s chaos right outside my office door. Here’s how I’ve done it:

Sometimes you have to get rid of all the bullshit in your life, and just focus on the things that make you a better person.

    1)   Set up your work-space—I can’t overestimate the importance of setting up your workspace. If your office is cluttered and disorganized, you’ll spend lots of extra mental energy just attempting to focus on the task at hand while psychologically, all you really want to do is clean, sort, and organize the huge pile in the corner. Our psyches crave order, so when your office is orderly, you know where to find what you need, and it’s clear to you what to put your attention on next (your inbox or your high priority activities list), you’re much more likely to be able to focus on the task at hand.

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    If organizing your office sounds overwhelming, I recommend asking for help from a co-worker, friend, or family member, and if that doesn’t work, then hire someone to help you get organized. If you need a book for motivation, I love “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

    2)   Protect your space from intrusions and common distractions—When I first started working from home my husband would unexpectedly walk into my office and start asking me questions about household stuff. At first I just thought it was annoying, but later I realized that these interruptions greatly reduce my productivity. So I had a little talk with my hubby and I established a “my workspace is sacred” rule. When I’m in my office with the door shut, the only interruptions should be for emergencies or very urgently needed information. Even my 2 ½ year old daughter respects my office space and knows that when I’m working, she’s not to disturb me.

    This kind of boundary setting shouldn’t stop at physical interruptions though. You also need to turn off your personal phone, put the answering machine on your office phone (check messages and return calls no more than twice a day), and definitely turn off the “new mail” indicator on your computer. Checking your email every time there’s a new message is a huge waste of time and completely derails your focus.

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    3)   Set the expectations of the people you work with—If you work in an office setting, you might experience intrusions and interruptions from co-workers or your boss. Let the people in your office know that interruptions reduce your productivity and you’d like to minimize them. Set up systems that will work for you and your co-workers.

    For instance, you might tell everyone that you’ll check your email and respond to emails at 11am and 3pm every day, rather than responding to each message individually throughout the day. You may even implement a coding system by which people can indicate high importance and time sensitive emails vs. low importance get to it whenever you can emails.

    4)   Strategize redirection ahead of time—If there’s an interruption you can anticipate, figure out a way to redirect ahead of time. Send a co-worker to someone else who’s working on the project, ask them for a more detailed analysis, or schedule another time to talk. Sometimes even delegating more responsibility to the concerned party can allay their fears and lighten your load.

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    Reminding people that they too have power and that you can’t attend to every detail boosts their responsibility and trains them not to rely so heavily on you.

    5)   Take a moment to address the distraction—There are times when my daughter is home and she’s in distress and needs me right away. I understand that, and by taking a moment to connect with her, I’m actually teaching her that I’m available when she really needs me, which ultimately reduces the number of interruptions.

    “Oh, you hurt yourself! Do you need a hug? I love you so much. I’m sorry you hurt yourself. Are you having fun playing with Grammy? I’m working right now, so I can’t play with you, but I bet Grammy will read you a story or do a puzzle with you!” Off she toddles happily.

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    Responding to your co-worker might sounds slightly different, “I know you’re concerned about the report, but I’m working on something else right now, can we schedule a time to talk about this later this afternoon? How about 4:00?” Jot it in your calendar, and get right back to your previous work.

    6)   Establish a regular reminder for your high priority activities—Working for myself means that I have to prioritize everything for myself, which I find quite challenging. So, in my moments of clarity, when I know what’s most important to my business, I create to do lists and mark the high priority items as such. Then, every time I find myself with unscheduled time, I revisit my “high priority” items and work through them one by one.

    I find it easy enough to check my list when I have time, but if you just never seem to get around to it, set a particular time of day or an alarm or send yourself an email reminder to check on those items that make the difference for you between success and failure.

    I hope these strategies are helpful for you and I would love to know what you think of them! Please leave me a comment below and have a great and productive day.

    Warmly, Shelly

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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