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How to overcome distractions and take back your time

We’re all so distracted all the time it’s a wonder we get anything done! In fact, many of us barely make progress on our goals. Or if we do it’s not in a timely way. This lack of progress can cause you to give up, think it’s too hard and feel like you failed. 

I suspect we’re all operating at about 50% of our actual potential.

If you’re constantly juggling work, kids, friends and commitments then you probably also feel overwhelmed at times.  You might put it down to having a lot on your plate and competing priorities.  And that’s likely to be part of it.  But what if I told you that being distracted is causing you to loose hours of time each week?  And that if you could stop some of those distractions and interruptions with a few simple techniques, you’d not only have more time, but you’d stop feeling overwhelmed, stressed and under the pump! Stay with me and I’ll show you some easy to implement strategies on how to overcome distractions.

Take a moment

Imagine that you are making progress on your goals? How would it be to feel satisfied and fulfilled at the end of the day? 

I bet that sounds as good as eating dessert before dinner, but it’s not that easy.  You have to get serious with yourself and admit that you are in fact, sometimes distracted. 

How to overcome distractions

It starts like this.

You have to admit that you’re not fully present with your kids.  Because when you quickly check  an email on your phone as your son tells you a tale from his day, you’re not really listening.  So when he looked at you for a response you had to mumble something incoherent and change the topic.  Yep, he noticed you were distracted even if you didn’t!  And I’ve been there all too often.

Or at work when you sat down to write that important email, a notification popped up on your screen and you glanced at it.  It might be important.  It’s an update from a coworker but not urgent.  So you put your focus back on writing the email.  But you can’t quite recall the point you wanted to make. And now you’re thinking “I should quickly reply so that I’m not holding them up”. You reassure yourself that the reply is getting a task out of the way and off your list.  Before you know it, it’s lunchtime and you didn’t finish the important email.

Get real, you’re not multi-tasking, you’ve been distracted? Yep, I’m also guilty on this one.

Or

Perhaps it happened in the team meeting when your smartwatch vibrated to share a notification.  Taking a quick glance to check if it’s important won’t be an issue right?  But just at that moment you lost track of what your coworker was saying.  And that was when they threw to you for an answer you were caught off guard.  Ahh… that was definitely a distraction, can’t kid yourself there.

But these are the tech distractions, what about the human ones. 

Someone taps you on the shoulder at work, breaking your deep concentration on the project you’re focused on.  You respond quickly and they’re gone, but it takes you quite a few minutes to get your head back into what you were doing.  Those minutes add up over the course of a week.  

In the Fast Company’s interview with Gloria Mark, she revealed that her study from the University of California Irvine, showed it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after an interruption!!!

Distractions are endless and even when justified, they are still distractions.  And they are as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to getting things done.

You might be thinking ‘eh, it’s not that big of a deal, don’t be so dramatic!’ But the time adds up.  Just 5 distractions at work a day could eat up 1 hour, 56 minutes and 15 seconds if the Gloria Mark’s study is correct. By the end of a week that’s a full day lost to trying to get back on track after being distracted. 

Yes, that’s correct, a whole freaking day! 

So how do you overcome distractions?

 

Time pressure and overwhelm

So if you’re feeling like you’re under constant time pressure, overwhelmed or just can’t get on top of things.  You may be more distracted than you think. 

If you could claim back hours of your week with just a few simple strategies?  Would you do it?

The Experiment

I did a little experiment on this at the office. I time blocked out my day, I even left 10 minutes between tasks to allow time for interruptions and distractions.  I thought 23 minutes 15 seconds felt a little much.  (If you’re not familiar with time blocking I explain in more detail further down this page) 

But I quickly realised that between co-workers engaging me in conversation or asking questions, my email notifications popping up in my right corner of the screen. My smartwatch vibrating. And the worst, I discovered my own ability to stay focused is very compromised.  I’ll just quickly update my to-do list with that new task… I wonder what the boys are up to?…Mustn’t forget to call so and so…mmm lunch…

Endless distractions…

And I’m so used to it that I’ve somehow trained my brain to think it’s normal and somehow productive to react to everything as it comes up.  I think ‘I’ll just add that idea to my task list for later’ or ‘I’ll just do this thing now as it’s got to be done either way’.  And what do you know, it gets the end of the day and I’ve achieved a whole lot of busy work but nothing substantial.  There’s a bunch of stuff ticked off on my list, but I’ve not achieved the thing that will move the needle.  

And I feel frustrated.  

But no more of this, I’ve taken my time back.  

Distractions be gone.

How to overcome distractions is easier said than done.  Yes, but there are some very simple things you can do to reduce distractions if you’re just willing to admit that they happen to you.

Solution 1:  Email and Notifications

First

Turn off notifications on your phone and computer. Do you really need to know instantly when an email lands in your inbox?  Schedule time each day to check on email.  And especially schedule time and a time limit for social media.

**Bonus tip: The best advice I ever got was to NEVER check email first thing in the morning or on arrival at work. Email is all other peoples needs and will only stop you getting to the most important task of your day. That task should be scheduled 1st on your calendar before you tackle anything else.  And should be the item that will move you closer to achieving an important goal or milestone.

Second

Everyone has a different level of use for an email in their job. I do receive a lot of email rather than phone calls and my team use email to share information that I need to review etc.  So I find checking it mid-morning, after lunch and towards the end of the day is plenty to stay on top of my inbox.  But I only check it if I have time to answer any urgent emails.  I don’t flag everything for later unless I have scheduled time later to deal with it.  Even casting your eye over the subject lines and passing til later can result in reading emails two or more times before responding.

**Bonus tip: I keep a ‘Waiting on’ list in my diary and when I do my first email check, I do an inbox search for any people who’s email response I’m waiting on.  And by that, I mean typing their name into my emails search bar, not scanning my inbox.  If nothing shows in search, I know they haven’t replied so I can close email until next scheduled time, or if I still have time allocation, I can look for any other emails that may be important.

Third 

Be ruthless with unsubscribing.  I am a sucker for getting emails from my favourite fashion brands but it’s a massive distraction to have them land in my inbox.  So I set inbox rules to have them go directly to folders.  Every so often I go and check the folder for ‘fashion emails’ and there are usually dozens to be read and I either click open a few or delete them.  But had they hit my inbox, I would have browsed and been distracted. Sure, I’ve missed a few great sales, but I also saved money by not knowing and not spending!

Oh, and if I repeatedly delete an email from a brand without reading or looking at it, I unsubscribe because it mustn’t be that interesting to me after all. 

Time Blocking 

Time blocking is a productivity distraction killing game changer.  And anyone can do it.

  1.  

Step 1:

Get out your task list

Step 2:

Prioritise your list into the most important tasks. By important, I mean the tasks that will give you the most benefit and move you towards your goals. Not the tasks that seem urgent but are really just busywork.  Be it for work or personal, the important tasks must be a the top of your list.

Step 3:

Think about time allocations for each task?  30 minutes? 4 hours?  If a task will take more than an hour, think about how you can chuck it down in to smaller tasks that can be achieved one at a time.

Step 4:

Get out your calendar.

Step 5:

Add blocks of time for each task. For example, you might have a list that looks like this

– Create a marketing plan for the 2nd quarter (2hours)
– Write a brief for client project x (30min)
– Check for and respond to ‘waiting on’ emails (15min)
– Review newsletter copy and make edits (30 min)
– Lunch with a co-worker to discuss sales targets (45 min)
– Check email & respond to anything urgent (30 min)
– Check analytics on new YouTube channel (30min)
– Networking Zoom session (1 hour)
– Follow up with any new contacts from networking session (15min)
– Check email & respond to anything urgent (30min)
– Meet with Comms manager to go over campaign launch plans (45min)
– Check social media if time permits (20min)
– Update calendar for tomorrow (10min) 

Distractions time blocked calendar example

And that’s a day mapped out. 

I plan out a full week in advance and then update it at the end of each day if things need to move around.  Sometimes things run over or I’ve underestimated the time a task will take.  Or an urgent meeting or problem arises.  So I always leave some blank space, particularly towards the end of the week to move items or add a new task if more time is needed.  

You have to have the flexibility to make this work.

Pro Tip: Another tip on time blocking is a simple number system.  If I put an item in my calendar but for some reason am not able to start it, I add it again later in the week with a number 2 next to it.  Then if I move it again it gets a 3.  When I’ve moved something for the 3rd time, my rule is that it has to be done.  I can only move something 3 times.  Otherwise, you’ll stop giving the task any importance and it will just keep getting bumped.  Often when I bump a task it’s a task that requires my full attention, so moving it is a way to avoid it!! Hello, procrastination.

Are you ready to get going?

If you’ve read this far I’m guessing you’re really keen to get yourself organised and less distracted.  

But, if you’re like me,  you’re also a bit wary of routines.  I’ve never been one for routines. That is until I had my second child and ended up in sleep school when neither of us was getting any sleep.  They taught me the importance of a routine.   With two little babies at home, that routine saved my sanity and helped me appreciate just how much better life is when you have one to guide your day.  And I’ve been a planning and scheduling guru ever since.

Goodbye, overwhelm.

Hello getting sh*t done and achieving my goals.

I hope this helps you get your dreams into action and reduces your stress as well.

There are so many more tips I can share if you’re interested, just ask a question or let me know what you’re struggling with.  You might find my blog on work-life balance helpful Leave a comment below.

What sort of things do you find helpful to keep yourself on track?  I’d love to hear your ideas so please share in the comments below.