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The 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distraction and Get Things Done

The 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distraction and Get Things Done
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Do you ever have enough time to fit it all in? Are you time deficient and task overloaded? If you are, don’t worry—you are not alone, and there are ways to take control of your workload and get your work done.

Disturbed Focus

One of the reasons that many people are overloaded with work is not because they have too much to do, but because we live in a world of information overload and our focus is constantly being disturbed. Have you ever sat in a coffee shop or in an airport and gotten more work done in an hour than you do in a week? Sound familiar? That’s because sometimes when we are out of our own environment we are not being disturbed by a barrage of distractions. It’s crazy to think that when undisturbed, we can achieve so much in a short space of time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could imitate that everyday?

Well the good news is you can if you choose to. You first have to identify the things that distract you, and then set about eliminating or at least reducing them from your day.

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1. Clutter

On the outside, clutter appears to be an innocent by-product from our hectic lifestyles but in fact, clutter can be guilty of a lot more than an untidy environment. Clutter affects your state of being whether you are aware of it consciously or not, by disturbing your focus and confusing your mind. The first step to having fierce focus is de-cluttering your space and your mind. Make sure you have the right storage for your stuff; the main reason for clutter is that an object that gets left lying around doesn’t have a home. Correct storage solutions will avoid this, so invest in proper storage to avoid this from happening, but only after you have de-cluttered and removed unnecessary objects from your life.

2. Get Organized

After de-cluttering, you will need to organize what is left over; this will reduce the amount of time you spend looking for things and keep you feeling calmer and in control of your duties and responsibilities. If you work with paper you will need an effective filing system: consider a filing cabinet with hanging folders and labelled manila inserts for clear and easy retrieval, and a desk stand for current folders and work in action. Alternatively, if you decide to go paperless, you will need an efficient folder structure on your PC to store your scanned documents. A program such as Evernote allows you to store your documents in Notebooks with tags.

3. Schedule

“What gets scheduled, gets done.” If you want to get something done, stick it in your diary. Once you plan something it’s difficult to avoid doing it—you may move it from one week to the next, but you will eventually have to tackle it. If you find you are still ignoring a task, ask yourself whether it’s really important. Maybe it is no longer a priority and doesn’t need to be done at all. Planning your tasks is the best way to avoid been pulled in all directions by your own distracted mind, or by others looking for your time and attention. If you have allocated an hour for a project and someone comes looking for your help, you will be more likely to tell them to call back later or to schedule a time to speak to them.

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4. Disconnect

Once you have created a clear, clutter-free, organized environment, you need to do the same with your electronics. One of the chief time thieves of our day is technology; though created to make our lives easier, it is guilty of absorbing our minutes like an hourglass pulls sand to its base. If you want to achieve great things you need to be in control and not react to every bell and whistle that comes out of your electronic devices.

What to do?

Switch off all notifications from social networks, and go to these programs only when you allocate time for them; not when someone thinks their update is more important that you getting your work done.

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Process Emails twice or three times a day—turn off notifications, and batch process them.

Send fewer emails to receive fewer. Consider using other methods of communication appropriate to the message.

Shut down the Internet and your email when you are trying to get work done. If you find this too difficult, you could use something like Leechblock, a browser Add-on that will limit your access to the Internet during specified times of the day.

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5. Get Out of the House/Office

I’m writing this while sitting in a coffee shop. I come here to write; there is no Internet connection and all I can do is write or stare out the window at the wild sea, which helps my mind to focus on what I am doing. When I work from home I get distracted easily. Leaving the house and sipping a chai while writing allows me to get so much more done than I would at home.

Awareness

The first step to improving your situation is recognizing your own distractions and working on a solution to eliminate or reduce them from your life. It’s your life, and your responsibility to make the changes necessary to help you to reduce stress and get a hell of a lot more done.

 

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More by this author

Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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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)
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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.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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