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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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      Published on January 16, 2019

      How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

      How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

      We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

      You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

      You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

      That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

      Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

      1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

      Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

      We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

      To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

      At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

      The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

      2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

      Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

      The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

      In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

      It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

      It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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      So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

      • Are you a great strategist?
      • Are you an effective planner?
      • Is Project Management your strength?
      • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
      • Are you the ideas person?
      • Is Implementation your strength?

      Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

      3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

      One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

      Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

      Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

      Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

      4. Take Time for Planning

      “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

      One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

      You can take the time to think about:

      • What’s the purpose of the project?
      • How Important is it?
      • When does it need to be delivered by?
      • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
      • What are the KPIs?
      • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
      • Who is working on this project?
      • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
      • What tolerances can I add in?
      • What are the review stages?
      • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

      Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

      5. Focus on Priorities

      Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

      Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

      One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

      1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
      2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
      3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
      4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

      James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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        The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

        If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

        If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

        6. Take Time Out

        To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

        If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

        Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

        In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

        Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

        7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

        Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

        I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

        Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

        If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

        8. Stop Multitasking

        Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

        So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

        When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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        If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

        9. Work in Blocks of Time

        To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

        I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

        Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

        Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

        Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

        Then take another 10-minute break.

        Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

        By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

        10. Get Rid of Distractions

        Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

        “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

        Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

        If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

        11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

        You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

        Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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        Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

        12. Take a Time Audit

        Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

        Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

        You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

        Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

        Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

        At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

        If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

        13. Protect Your Confidence

        It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

        When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

        Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

        When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

        Final Words

        A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

        The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

        If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

        Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

        Reference

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