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How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

If you’re like me, you’ve had two back-to-back workdays where, one day, you feel extremely productive and the next day, you feel like you didn’t accomplish a single thing. Having a productive day feels amazing, as if you’ve just conquered your profession. And those non-productive days, well, you’re just glad they’re over.

What I’ve learned through trial and error is that most of those unproductive days are, gasp, nobody’s fault but my own. Even if I was distracted by coworkers, or last-minute urgent projects arose, or I had a splitting headache, I should be able to tell people that I’m busy, or leave space in my schedule for unexpected work, or take a Tylenol and find a quiet, dark place to sit for 10 minutes. There are remedies for almost every distraction.

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I’m not saying we can’t have a slack-off day every now and then, but if your unproductive days happen more and more often, it’s time to do a little soul-searching, organizing, and planning to make distractions go away.

How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

1. Learn to anticipate yourself.

According to a study conducted by the University of California Irvine, office workers are only able to focus on any single task for an average three minutes and five seconds before they’re distracted. And, surprisingly, 44 percent of those distractions are internal — hunger, boredom, stress, sleep deprivation. The good news is that internal distractions are the only kind we can truly control. Know your patterns for hunger, bored, stress, and sleepiness and plan ahead. Keep snacks at your desk, mix up your to-do list by interspersing boring and interesting tasks, or find a quiet place to take a short nap.

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2. Send out busy signals.

If 44 percent of distractions are internal, than 56 percent of distractions come from external sources. People, email, phone calls, pets (if you work from home like I do), and chatter from other cubicles fall into this category. To stop external distractions before they start, you have to give the right signals to the outside world.

Put up your “busy” message on instant messenger and wear headphones (even if you’re not playing music). Stand to greet cube visitors to show them you want to move the conversation along. If you face the entrance of your cube or office when seated at, move your computer to the back of the cube to face the wall when working. Subtle queues like these might seem a tad passive-aggressive, but they might also save you from annoying distractions.

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3. Make technology work for you, not against you.

Even though it might seem like the enemy most times, technology can be your anti-distraction friend. Turn off email alerts, set your phone to go straight to voice-mail or create an auto-response to text messages you receive that says something like, “In the middle of something; will get back to you later.” Block chunks of time on your calendar as “busy.” Unless your job involves life-or-death situations, everyone will manage just fine for the few hours when you’re off the grid.

4. Ask for a more flexible schedule.

In a recent study of 800 job seekers looking for flexible jobs conducted by FlexJobs, the number one reason for wanting to work from home was to avoid distracting coworkers. Even if you can’t work from home full-time, maybe your boss will let you telecommute one or two days a week in the interest of productivity. Or, try rearranging your work hours to be in the office earlier or later than typical work hours for some quiet time. Even escaping to Starbucks for an afternoon of coffee-fueled, solitary work can help you be more productive.

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5. Stop being so darn accommodating.

Are you a people-pleaser? A “yes man?” Is your favorite line from any movie, “I’m right on top of that, Rose!” from 1991’s Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead? The nicest people are often the busiest people, and when asked if they can help with something or take on a new project, they immediately accept to be polite or a team player. But if you’re already overloaded with work and feeling like you never get anything done, the last thing you should do is take on any new projects. Let people know that while you’d love to help, your plate is full.

If your unproductive days are starting to win out over your productive ones, it’s time to figure out where your distractions originate, and put a stop to them. By being proactive, silencing technology, working a more flexible schedule and letting people know, both passively and actively, that you are b-u-s-y, you’ll be less distracted and more productive.

Featured photo credit:  Man and woman working in office via Shutterstock

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Brie Weiler Reynolds

Senior Career Specialist at FlexJobs

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How to Fight Information Overload

How to Fight Information Overload

Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

What you need to do is focus on these 4 steps:

  1. Set your goals.
  2. Decide whether you really need the information.
  3. Consume only the minimal effective dose.
  4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming too much information.

But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

The Nature of the Problem

The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem. This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

When we see some half-baked blog post we don’t even consider reading it, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it. We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

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No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on. The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control. Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it. But first…

Why information overload is bad

It stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here. When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work, or enjoy your passion.

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So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with your goals.

1. Set your goals

If you don’t have your goals put in place you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

2. What to do when facing new information

Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans then skip it. You don’t need it.

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If it does then it’s time for another question. Will you be able to put this information into action immediately? Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks? Or is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away? If the information is not actionable in a day or two (!) then skip it. (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant. Self-control comes handy too … it’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future then SKIP IT.

3. Minimal Effective Dose

There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour Body,Tim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs. Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life. Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming more information

Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

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Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

In Closing

As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance. I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over. I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

Feel free to shoot me a comment below and share your own story of fighting information overload. What are you doing to keep it from sabotaging your life?

(Photo credit: Businessman with a Lot of Discarded Paper via Shutterstock)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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