There’s no doubt that one of my biggest challenges as a Gen Y business person is managing distractions in order to stay productive. We live in a very exciting time. A time full of opportunities, more freedom and possbilities that our anscestors couldn’t even have dreamt about. Most people around the world can now work from home, build their own business using the web and no or very little capital, and connect with people who live thousands a miles away from them. While technology and the communication revolution are great, they also left many of us shorter attention spans and a lot of distractions to deal with.
Two Types of Distractions
Distractions that affect your work and life come in two formats:
1- External Distractions: Your email or iPhone notifications, your collegue or partner intruppting you during a work session.
2- Internal Distractions: The voices inside your head and ideas that seem to only come to you while you’re in a middle of something. Both of these types distraction could lead to tasks taking longer than it needs which in turn will affect your ability to finish your to-do list by the end of the day. It will also wear you out and make you tired.
It’s happening to me right now
As I’m sitting here writing this blog post, my mind keeps wondering about an extra task that I need to add to my to-do list, an awesome idea that popped into my mind out of nowhere and the text message my friend just sent me. Oh! and I just got a notification that my tweet from this morning got retweeted. Damn it! now someone just added me to their Google+ circle. Being the productivity junkie that I am, I’m always expermenting with different techniques and methods to conquer this. So today I’m gonna share with you an eight step method that I use effectively (I used it to write the rest of this blog post): (In case your attention span is too short to finish this 1000+ words article, here’s an infographic that summeraizes it. Feel free to repost and share it)
1- Pick 3 or 4 to-dos to focus on
One reason why many people struggle with productivity is long to-do lists. They take a look at their list every morning and they get overwhelmed by all the stuff they have to do. Your tasks are not equally important. Some tasks have to be done on that day, need full attention, have a high impact and ROI on life or work while other tasks don’t require full attention, or even sitting at your desk or infront of your computer. They can be done while doing other stuff. The first thing I do when I’m looking at my to-do list every morning is pick 3 or 4 tasks that are the most important (crucial), need the greatest focus and will have the greatest impact on my life or work. I then move those 3 or 4 tasks to a different list or focus zone. ( You can do this by using the foucs funtion on ActionMethod or by adding them to a different list in any other to-do app like Any.DO or Reminders).
2- Break down to-dos into a set of 10 to 20 minute action steps with a 5 to 10 minute buffer time in between
Every to-do task could be broken down into action steps that lead to completing the task. For example: The task of “Writing a blog post” will involve action steps like: Research topic, research keywords, write, edit, find relevant images, post, promote on social media, …etc.
This will get you clear on what exactly you need to do, will help you manage your time and will also show you where you get stuck. There’s also something magical about setting time constaints on things and the small wins you get from achieving small goals.
3- Set your phone to Do Not Disturb
Now, I know this hard. We all love respond to tweets and texts right away, but setting your iPhone to Do Not Disturb (or Check out this great post for Android alternatives) will ensure that you’re silencing all notifications and calls while it’s turned on. The neat thing about this is that your phone will still ring if you get recieve calls from you favorite list of contacts (Family or boss or business partners) and you it will also ring if you recieve a second call from a person who’s not on your favorite list within 3 minutes. That way you’ll never miss any emergency calls.
4- Clear you screen and close all tabs
The next step will be switching off the notifications on your mac (or it’s equivalent for PC) and close all tabs or just open a new window. Then use the full screen mode. This will eliminate all visual distractions from your sight as it won’t show the dock, the menu or even your desktop background.
5- Prepare something to capture mind-distractions
This step is crucial for managing your internal distractions while you’re doing the task, meaning this extra to-do you want to do later or that awesome idea that pops into your head. Have a paper and pen (I know. I love Evernote and hate paper too but trust me on this one. You can take a picture of them and clip them to Evernote later).
6- Do the task and capture any internal distractions
At this point, you’ll be ready to do the task without any distractions. An idea for a new ebook popped into your mind? Write it down quickly on the piece of paper from step 5 and get back to the task. Once you put your thought in writing, it will be out of your mind and it won’t distract you anymore. As I keep doing this, I found that I developed more focus and I’m getting less and less distracted by my thoughts.
7- Rinse and repeat
Use the time between action steps to check on your email or Twitter real quick before repeating the same process for the next action step. Working in short and focused incrementals of time will let you get much more done than long work sessions with the normal distractions. Try it for yourself. It will blow your mind!
8- Don’t be hard on yourself and don’t give up
Like when you’re trying to change any habit, you’ll keep trying to look at your phone or wanting to open a new tab. That’s normal. Don’t be so hard on yourself so that you wouldn’t fall off the bandwagon. Keep trying. It’s like when you’re beginning to work out, if you want to go everyday you’ll probably be tempted to quit. DON’T. Keep trying and you’ll see improvement every time.