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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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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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