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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.

      More by this author

      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 13, 2020

      How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

      How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

      Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

      If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

      1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

      The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

      Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

      For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

      The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

      2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

      Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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      As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

      Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

      3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

      Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

        This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

        We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

        Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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        When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

        Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

        4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

        Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

        For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

        Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

        5. Make Decisions

        For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

        If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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        If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

        Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

        I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

        This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

        The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

        6. Take Some Form of Action

        Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

        The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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        It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

        Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

        The Bottom Line

        Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

        When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

        More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

        Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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