So you have read part 1 and are now super organised but how do you manage those time zapping distractions?
Less Reacting and More Focus
Not so much a tip but more of an understanding that can help us know why it is so important for us to have focused time. I read about reactionary workflow and urgent Vs. important work in a FANTASTIC book by Scott Belsky called “Making Ideas Happen”.
“Without realizing it, most of us have entered the new era of what I call “reactionary workflow.” Rather than being proactive with our energy, we are acting in response to what is incoming. Having relinquished control over our focus, it has become harder and harder to embark on our work with intention.”
How many times do you plan your schedule for the day ahead, only to get to the end of it and realise you have done nothing you intended to do? Instead you have spent the day responding to incoming e-mails, answering the phone, sorting out ad-hoc urgent requests and just generally reacting to whatever pops up. Recognise this problem and use some of the tips that follow (and in my Part 1 post) to combat it.
Did you know that multi-tasking can actually cause us to waste between 20% and 40% of our time depending on the tasks in hand? No one (however female) can focus on more than one task at a time and if we try to we normally end up taking much longer over it and producing lower quality results. Multi-tasking can be done well on rare occasions but is often a sign of a mind that is distracted and flitting from one thing to the next frequently.
Do you have multiple tabs open in your internet browser or lots of open files on your computer or desk that are all in use? These are sure fire signs that you are trying to multi-task. Research shows that people are more prone to switching between tasks when the task in hand is boring or a bit of an unknown. This is because boredom and fear cause us to seek something else to do.
Gather together the files, papers or whatever it is you need to complete your task and close down everything else. Tell yourself in your mind that you are working on this task until X time and then be disciplined in sticking to it.
Open plan offices mean that it is easier than ever to shout out questions or chat to colleagues with minimal effort. It is thought that interruptions now consume approximately 28% of our working day. This is a huge percentage! Previously published research has linked frequent interruptions to increased rates of exhaustion, stress induced sickness and a doubling of error rates.
Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that workplace relationships and solid communication can often make or break an organisation. I am not saying that conversation should be banned but we do need to make a conscious effort to minimise interruptions and make them more structured. So just how do you tackle ‘have you got a minute’?
Do Not Disturb Signals
Let your colleagues know that when you have your earphones in you are not to be disturbed. It doesn’t have to be earphones; some companies in the US have a stash of high-vis vests that employees wear when they do not want to be interrupted.
Keep An Interruptions Log
Mind Tools have produced an ‘interruptions log’ sheet (see link below) where you write down instances of interruptions over a given period of time. These interruptions can then be assessed and measures put into place to try and cut them down. It should become obvious if there is a certain person who interrupts more than most or if there is a specific question being asked over and over again by various members of the team. Can you speak to the serial interrupter and set up some boundaries? Or can you post the answer to that ever asked question on your notice board or intranet site?
Keep A ‘Talk To’ list
Try not to be an interrupter yourself and set a good example. Instead of jumping out of your chair every time you have a question or a passing thought, write it down along with the person’s name. By the end of the day you will probably have several questions for several people, you can then ask them all in one go with one interruption instead of many throughout the day! This is also a massive help if you have colleagues who are part time or who work elsewhere for parts of the week as you will never forget to ask them things that pop up on days when they are not around.
Through Instant Messaging & Social Media
IM services such as Skype can be incredibly useful for file sharing or quickly communicating information. It is essential to draw up a list of guidelines around the use of IM services in the workplace or they can easily become a place to chat and LOL away the day. Keep your use of IM to a bare minimum and ensure that your colleagues know that when your status is set to “Do Not Disturb” it means exactly that. Make it clear that if someone messages you during these times they will not get an answer and then STICK TO IT. So many times I have replied to messages whilst I have a ‘busy’ status on my IM service and this has set a bad precedent. Alternatively, just log out during times when you need to focus.
It is estimated that 64% of employees visit non-work related websites every day during work time; Facebook being one of the biggest culprits. This Forbes article looks at time wastage at work through social media and other sites in more detail. The thought of perhaps having a little red notification can be a massive distraction and so sites like Anti-Social (which block social sites on your computer for pre-set periods) can be a god send.
Email is often listed as the biggest distraction for workers as it can easily breed the kind of reactive workflow I mentioned at the start of this post. The most important thing when it comes to email strategy is to make sure that you have one!
Choose two or three times of the day when you are going to check and process emails. Make sure that you have your email service closed outside of these times so that you are not sucked back in by pop-up notifications and the ever increasing number [Inbox( (34)] in your browser tab. When it comes to picking the best time to check your emails, think about your low productivity times and consider using these. Save your focused time for more demanding and challenging tasks.
For more ideas on e-mail strategy check out:
Quite Working Periods
Dedicating certain times of the day to quiet working can help to minimise interruptions that are in person, via social and IM sites and through email. Perhaps everyday between 9.30am and 11.30am could be a quiet working period where there is no chatter, phones usage, email checking, social browsing and so on. It is just focused and dedicated time on a task of your choice. Colleagues should ensure that they have everything they need prior to the start of the quiet period so that they can crack straight on with their chosen task without needing any external involvement.
It is easy to be distracted when you are tired or hungry so try and get away from your desk for a little bit each day. Take a walk at lunch, eat something healthy and filling (but not stodgy), stretch, take the stairs and drink plenty of water! Sophie wrote a post recently called “The Corporate Curse of the Sedentary Lifestyle” which is well worth a read.
I hope this two part series has given you lots of great ideas on how to be more organised and manage distractions!