Whether you’re self-employed or working in a company, the number of distractions around us is large and seems to be growing. Part of that is due to technology and part of it is just life. How can we tame all of those diversions in order to stay productive?
Following are some tips that can help you stay focused while you’re at work.
1. Set Boundaries
This applies mostly to those of you who work from home. I used to have a home office and soon discovered that several of my friends and relatives were occasionally dropping by or just calling to say ‘hi.’ Nice as those sentiments may have been, I realized that these people either didn’t understand or respect that, although I was at home, I really was working. I needed to make that clear to them by saying, “I appreciate your call/coming by, but I’m busy working. Can we talk/get together another time?” Let them know you’re happy to meet them for lunch or during non-work hours and keep reinforcing that message. They’ll get it soon enough.
You may have to set similar boundaries if you work in an office. Friends and relatives might need to be told that that can’t just pop by or call you socially. If you have to, tell them your boss gets annoyed. You may even have to do the same sort of thing with social butterfly co-workers. If you have a door, close it when you’re really trying to focus and leave it open only when you don’t mind the odd interruption.
2. Schedule Breaks
Most people work best if they focus on a task for a certain period of time, but after a while, their effectiveness at the task starts to decrease. The length of time differs for everyone. For me, I’m usually good for about 45 minutes to an hour, then my mind often starts to drift. Best not to force yourself to keep at it, but give yourself a little reward for working hard for that amount of time by taking a short break. Get up and stretch. Go for a short walk. Grab a coffee. Make that quick phone call. Again the length of the break needed will vary for everyone, but usually a few minutes is enough to allow you to recharge. You’ll find, overall, your creativity and productivity will be much higher.
3. Turn off Your Smartphone
Sacrosanct territory, I know! But there are just too many “breakthroughs” – calls, text messages, etc. – most of which are not urgent. If someone really needs to get a hold of you, they can call on your work line. Otherwise, it can wait.
4. Take Control of Your Email
This is something I’ve admittedly struggled with. Email is just so tempting to look at. Who knows what news it may bring! Well, again, it’s rarely anything so urgent that you need to be continuously interrupted. I used to have my email set to automatically receive new messages every 10 minutes (and ding when there were any) and I simply couldn’t resist seeing what had come in each time. Already, that’s six distractions in an hour, usually of at least a few minutes each. Not to mention the time it takes to re-focus on what you were doing. Before you know it, half of your hour is gone. Not very productive.
What I’ve done now is turned off automatic email receiving and only get new messages when I hit the “send/receive” button. I generally try to do that only once an hour and/or after I’ve finished a task. And even after that, my rule is that if there are fewer than four emails, I don’t look at them until the number of new emails has reached that magic mark. Another option would be to set your email program to check for new messages once per hour. That could even be your signal to take a break. Whatever works for you.
5. Plan Your Social Media Usage
Another distraction that didn’t exist “back in the day.” Whatever your poison – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. – they’re very easy to get sucked in to. Your line of work may necessitate the use of social media (hopefully you are using it successfully to market your business) and that’s fine – just use it for exactly that, not to see what your friend from high school is up to or to get ideas for dinner. And see if you can schedule it, wisely, into your day.
6. Use Music and Other Audio Appropriately
Again, this depends on your line of work. If you’re meeting with clients for therapy or business transactions, it’s usually not a good idea to have any sort of audio distraction. However, if you’re working by yourself most of the time, background music can actually help productivity. The radio or other audio that involves talking is usually disrupting. But music – as long as it’s not too loud – can add a nice ambience to your job. Personally, I don’t usually have any music on when I’m writing or problem-solving, but when I’m designing or doing something that doesn’t require deep concentration, I like to have the tunes going at a level that I can hear, but not be overwhelmed by. You’ll probably need to experiment with the type and volume of music, if it’s appropriate for you.
These are just a few suggestions to help you stay good and focused at work. I hope they help with your productivity and creativity.
How about you? Do you have any productivity tips of your own?