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12 Ways to Prevent Distraction When Trying to Get Things Done

12 Ways to Prevent Distraction When Trying to Get Things Done

Productivity can hold you back and hold your company back, as many reports now find.

productive-timetable

    Productivity is getting more and more attention as the realisation that what you get done, and not how many hours you spend at the office, is what counts. Productivity will affect that promotion you want, getting a great review, or building the character people see.

    The good thing about productivity measures being taken by companies is that many have moved from the rigid 9 to 5, 40-hours-a-week drudgery to understanding that people often can’t force all aspects of their life into such a model. In the end, some part of their life will suffer and that in turn will affect their productivity.

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    For most knowledge workers today, i.e., workers whose currency is knowledge and not physical labour, working flexibly is possible. A laptop, an internet connection and a phone can achieve a lot in a day. But whether you are working from home or working at the office, there are distractions that need to be recognised and individuals need to know how to counteract them before suddenly realising that an hour has been lost that can never be gotten back.

    We often slip into allowing distractions to control our lives. You can regain control.

    What are the top distractions from work and how can you counteract them?

    1. People

    Chatty co-worker/loud headphones

    Most people are nice. Don’t be afraid to approach co-workers and let them know (kindly) that they are distracting you from your tasks. Suggest that they take their conversations to the cafeteria, to a quiet corner, or to lower their voice if that is sufficient for you. Ask them to take the headphone sound down a decibel or two. Make it clear that you are not trying to be a pest. You just need quiet time to get your stuff done.

    Constant questions

    If it’s a newbie, cut them some slack. However, if it persists then some steps need to be taken to limit the amount of distraction constant questioning causes. Ask your colleague to be sure that the question needs to be answered “right now” (i.e. is it inhibiting them from their work or is it merely “good to know” or “can be done later”). Authority to approve tasks can be delegated to others. You can designate times of the day when you answer questions over chat or in a brief meeting.

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    Loud phone voice

    Thankfully, more and more mobile phones are being used rather than fixed lines. This means whoever is causing the distraction has the power to move out of earshot if they can’t self-regulate their vocal chords. Similar to the first point, be friendly about it and ask your colleague/friend/whoever to take the call in another room. It’s quite possible that they didn’t even realise they were shouting!

    Family

    Working from home can be awesome and difficult, but everything can get done with good planning. At the beginning of the day have a list of what needs to get done, at what time it needs to be done, the estimated length of the activity, and how much that leaves you for your work. You can orient your family to know when you need to be left alone and when you are available. A good recommendation is to break your work into 90 minute stints. This is time enough to get focused and also give your brain regular breaks to refresh and process information.

    2) Things

    Cluttered desk/computer/inbox

    A cluttered desk stresses us out more, whether we like to admit it or not. Have the self-discipline to keep on top of it and it will never get out of control. Spend a day (or whatever time necessary) getting everything in order and at the end of each day make sure your items are filed, correctly piled or otherwise organized into something that makes sense to you. If you find yourself saying “it’s here somewhere” then your system is not working. Delete/dump stuff that you really don’t need, or at least transfer it to cloud storage/hard disk so it’s out of your way and out of your mind. Label or categorise items immediately. Don’t waste precious time being disorganized!

    Internet

    Self-discipline is crucial here. But if self-discipline doesn’t work, add-ons can be installed that block you from accessing chosen sites at particular hours of the day.

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    IM and SMS messages

    Make use of the “invisible” or “busy” button. Decide when you are going to be live and for how long, and send colleagues your schedule. It works similar to office hours. It depends on the job, of course – IM can be essential for some tasks, especially long-distance teamwork. Just be smart about it. In return, don’t spam your own workmates with irrelevant messages. Strike a balance, remembering that whilst you do want a good rapport with your colleagues, your goal is to GET THINGS DONE!

    Your chair

    Ah, the chair. Too comfy and you get relaxed and drift off. Too rigid and you get a sore back. If a major portion of your day is spent in a chair, invest in the best one possible for lumbar support. Similarly, if you spend a lot of time in the car or on an airplane, find products that can increase the health of your body rather than deplete it. Your company may even chip in on it for you. Health is one of our greatest assets, never take it for granted.

    3) Sights

    Overly stimulating/dull workspace

    There is nothing that puts me off working more than a grey cubicle. Worse: rows of grey cubicles. Office design has taken a turn for the fun and bright in recent years, with gaming corners and even massage therapists making regular appearances. You don’t have control of the whole office design, but if you work from home or you have a little space of your own then build it to be a place that makes you want to get things done. Surround yourself with things that motivate you. Is it a photo of someone whom you want to make proud? Is it a personal hero that you want to emulate? Is it a quote that nails exactly what you need to hear when you find yourself drifting off? What about the colour of your immediate surroundings? Can you control it? I personally can’t stand white walls. They remind me of hospitals, school and waiting rooms. Make sure that your work area exudes positive energy for you, and try not to clutter it with toys and gimmicks that send you off on nostalgic daydreams. Or take some advice on what not to have on your desk from this post.

    The view

    My office has an incredible view. High enough to see over the city, beside the sea and overlooking the train and metro stations. As I spend quite a bit of time at my job writing, I find the view inspirational. It can also cause me to drift off, as you can imagine! So my method is simply to sit with my back to the window during my focus hours, and let myself soak the sights in during lunch if I wish to. Alternatively, I put myself in a back office where there is no view and I don’t have to force myself to look in only one direction. Being at street-level can cause even more distractions. The noise of traffic, the movement of people, the sound of emergency vehicles… investing in a good set of blinds can help. As for the noise – perhaps sound-eliminating headphones are required in this case!

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    4) Environment

    Air conditioning/heating

    Ideally you know the temperature you’re comfortable at and can control it. Keep the air fresh enough so as to keep you alert but not so fresh that it makes you ill. I keep a woolly sweater at my desk as well in case my colleagues need more air than I. Finding your optimal temperature zone requires trying and testing, but it should generally be 22 – 25 Celsius (72 – 77 Fahrenheit).

    productivity vs temperature

      Lighting

      With our eyes already strained from looking at screens all day, it is important to also control the lighting. Incorrect lighting can result in headaches, tiredness and sore eyes – all leading to irritability and getting less done. Lighting should not glare, flicker, be uneven or cause you to lean in close in order to read something.

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      Andrea Francis

      Andrea loves being productive and getting things done. She shares practical tips to help people achieve what they want in life.

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      Last Updated on July 21, 2021

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

      No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

      Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

      Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

      A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

      Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

      In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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      From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

      A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

      For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

      This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

      The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

      That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

      Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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      The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

      Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

      But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

      The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

      The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

      A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

      For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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      But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

      If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

      For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

      These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

      For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

      How to Make a Reminder Works for You

      Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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      Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

      Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

      My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

      Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

      I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

      More on Building Habits

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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      Reference

      [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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