How often do you get to the end of the working day and find that the tasks that you had scheduled haven't been achieved?
Delegates on my management development training sessions usually tell me that most of their distractions are caused by external factors and that these 'can't be controlled' - but the question usually isn't whether these can be eliminated altogether but whether or not they can be managed. Research suggests that when we are distracted from a piece of work whilst we are in optimum focus mode, it takes between 10 and 15 minutes to get back to that point of optimum focus afterwards. It is therefore not surprising that our scheduled work tasks are not being completed, when we are being distracted multiple times each day.
So what can we do to manage our external distractions?
Receiving emails, phone calls, instant messages are a huge distraction for many. Consider allocating particular times of the day to deal with these. You could check your emails for example, in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the day. Is it possible for you to use voicemail for incoming calls or ask a colleague to take messages when appropriate?
If the auto alert on your emails is distracting you, turn it off. By not reading and replying to emails immediately, you are allowing yourself to focus on the task in hand.
I'm a morning person. When scheduling tasks, I plan (where possible) to carry out the most challenging work first thing as I know this is the best time for me in terms of focus. Mornings for me are the time where distractions really need to be avoided. Consider your optimum focus time; is it possible to take yourself into an office or a quiet space during this time? Working from home is a fantastic option to avoid workplace distractions but this may not be feasible in your role (maybe your presence is needed in the office or you have meetings on a daily basis). Could you work at home for a couple of hours at the start / end of the day to ensure your optimum focus time is being used effectively? You do of course need to take into account the distractions that may be present at home! Daytime TV and mowing the lawn aren't going to help you complete the project you are working on.
Don't get me wrong - it's great to have a good rapport with your colleagues and one of the first rules of effective communication is to show an interest in people but how much of your time is spent being non-productive and how long is it taking you to get back to focus? If you find it awkward stopping a conversation mid flow - why not stop the train before it starts? A friendly statement to your colleagues such as:
I'd like to hear all about your weekend but I really have to work on X Task this morning and it's a difficult job. Let's catch up when I've finished
..... shouldn't cause offence.
If you are being distracted by people in your team who are simply wanting you to think for them, encourage them to think for themselves. It will develop them in the longer term too!
If you are distracted by the latest pictures of your sister's baby on Facebook or you can't stop yourself from looking at your friend's holiday pictures on WhatsApp - force yourself to move your phone out of sight and only check it once the task you are working on is completed (or even better at lunchtime or after work!).
Where you have high focus tasks scheduled, try and focus on one task at a time. It is more effective in the long run. Schedule your day in terms of the order you will complete your tasks and agree with yourself beforehand the level of completeness required for each task before you allow yourself to move onto the next. Certain low focus tasks can clearly be multitasked such as drinking your coffee and reading an email but can the same be said for replying to a client email whilst you are in a departmental meeting?
These are interruptions that you are effectively causing yourself and some of the external distractions already mentioned may actually be internal distractions for you. Internal distractions include boredom (causing you to flit from one task to another or surf the internet) worry, self-doubt, procrastination and the wanting to try and fix everybody else's problems. None of these are helping you achieve your planned work schedule. It's useful to take a step back and think about why you are allowing these distractions to interrupt your flow - are you simply putting off a task you are not looking forward to or is it that you are ready for a new challenge?
The key with internal distractions is goal setting. Before going home each evening, consider what you would like to achieve the following day, and allot time to each task. Focus on two or three important tasks but be realistic with what you can achieve.
Remember, if you are distracted by the same thing daily, and it isn't possible to eliminate it, minimise it or delegate it to somebody else, it's probably not a distraction and actually a task that should have been scheduled the evening before.
Right, I've distracted you for long enough. Have a productive and enjoyable day!
Would you benefit from improving your productivity and effectiveness?Mercia can help you and your team with your productivity. See our latest course here or we can also tailor an In house course to your needs. For further information you can contact John Sharkey via e-mail or ring 0116 2581200.