How to overcome Distractions and Interruptions
Distractions are a normal part of life in our busy societies and for those of us in cities, it is even more regular with the close living spaces, constant activity and likely busy jobs that we find ourselves in as well. We are bound to get distractions and interruptions when we want (or should) be focused on something else so it’s important to learn to overcome distractions.
Distractions obviously cut away at our productivity even if we don’t feel like they do. Just a few minutes each hour in your working day of distractions can really add up, easily towards a few hours a week, and many days per year if it was all tallied up. Overcoming that and gaining back that time will not only make you more productive, it will also minimize the stress from backlog, procrastination and overworking since these are all partly created by interruptions and poor productivity.
Here are a few steps to stay focused:
1. Distinguish the urgent from the important.
We live in an era of “reactive” labor, in which our inbox, and others’ priorities for us set our pace. Researchers believe we waste our most creative hours on monotonous tasks. They suggest adopting the maxim, “The creative work comes first, then the reactive.”
2. Break away from the tyranny of email.
The email acts as source of temptation and as a random reinforcement mechanism. If you check your email every five minutes, you probably won’t find something interesting each time. But every so often, you’ll get something you were hoping to receive, and that’s what keeps you coming back. It’s a good idea to turn off the alerts that tell you every time you get a new message.
3. Use creative triggers.
Playing specific music, sipping a drink or even writing in a specific notebook can function as “creative triggers” that tell your mind it’s time to get busy.
4. Schedule your time.
Even if you work on your own, it’s important to set a beginning and end time for your work day and to build in blocks of time for different types of tasks.
5. Remember to take breaks.
If you work in an office, this might mean taking five minutes to gab over a cup of coffee with a colleague. For those who work alone, it’s easy to spend hours on the computer without taking a break. Remember that, unlike computers, we are not built for work at high speeds for long periods of time. Take a few minutes every hour to recharge and rest your eyes.
6. Stop trying to multitask.
It may seem that we are super-efficient, doing two or more things at once,but really we’re just doing one thing, then another and another again, with much less skill and precision that if we did only one job at a time.
7. Think before you connect.
Be mindful about why you are opening up Twitter or Facebook. Are you looking at Twitter because you want to search for information or because you’re procrastinating? Are you searching for a source on Facebook or mindlessly checking out pictures of your primary school classmate’s pet?
8. Make Interrupters Your Focus Once Interrupted
When you are interrupted by someone there is no way to gain that back, you are already interrupted. And pretending to multitask or simply half listening is no way of dealing with the distraction. Instead, what you should do is switch your full attention to the person interrupting you. If it is a thing or something in your environment, you can likely focus on then eliminating and preventing that from interrupting you again.
The same goes for people interrupting you. Since the distraction already occurred, your lost your focus, so now is your chance to make sure the person interrupting you knows it and is less likely to do it again. Make the distraction obvious by stepping or turning away from your work and face the person.
One final tip is that you may want to even give people some kind of sign or indicator when you are focused and don’t want distractions. Something as simple as a closed door, or a specific object on your desk, or something like having headphones on, or literally a busy do not disturb sign all could do the trick.
What is important is to be consistent, return contact to any interrupters you sent away via phone, email or in person and make the most of your productive time by eliminating distractions and preventing interruptions.