Distraction: 7 Ways to Beat the Enemy at your Gates

Continuing our theme this week of Productivity, I'd like to talk about what I think is the biggest enemy of personal productivity: distraction. Yesterday's post about the Pomodoro Technique is one way of limiting the amount of distraction in your workflow, but is it enough? 2987926396_87eb3c3494

Not really. Even when you set aside 25 minute Pomodoros in which to work, the tempting distractions are still there. Email alerts, ringing phones, shouting children, urgent questions from co-workers that will just take a second. Even your own mind can be a distraction as it drifts to thoughts that aren't related to the task at hand, drawing your focus away, making you unhappy, and compromising the work you're trying so hard to accomplish!

How do you sharpen the field, bring clarity to the picture?

  • Change of venue. Try moving somewhere else. If you're at your desk, try working in the lobby, or a bench outside your office building. Try working in a park or a library or a coffee shop. Look for a location that's conducive to helping you focus and where the distractions you're facing won't be present.
  • Music. There is a special part of your brain that can listen to music while the rest of your brain works on other tasks. It's one of the only ways your brain is capable of actual multitasking. Put that fact to use! Find some tunes you enjoy (I don't recommend thrash metal) and some good headphones (these are ones I use and absolutely love). Headphones have the side benefit of sending a subtle "I'm busy, please don't bother me" message to others.
  • Close a door. If you can, by all means shut the door to the room you're in. If you need to grab a conference room, the do so. If you work from home and the kids are interrupting you every few minutes, teach them that when the door's shut, "someone had better be spurting arterial blood if you're going to knock on this door when it's closed." Be honest with yourself, how likely is it that something horrible will happen while that door's shut? Really?
  • Make a list. When random thoughts start crowding in on you and you can't focus your mind on the task at hand, grab a sheet of paper and jot down the thoughts that are coming to you. I find that the harder I try to ignore them, the more they fight for my attention. Simply acknowledging them in this fashion, writing them down, lets me refocus on the original task again.
  • Post a sign. It may sound silly, and you may get a raised eyebrow or two when you first do it, but as your co-workers start to see the mountain of work coming out of your office, they may well start asking you for your secrets instead of snickering about your weirdness. And what's wrong with being weird?
  • Go analog. Turn off your computer. Turn off your cell phone. Unplug your landline. You've got voicemail, so let it work for you. Ten years ago, you lived just fine without the constant contact of facebook, twitter, email, online news updates, and what have you. It'll all still be there when you're done, and you can see it all guilt-free.
  • Schedule the time. If you still are having trouble despite all these other ideas, chances are that you've just picked a bad time. So look at your day and see if there are any better opportunities within your schedule where the demands on you might be less. Schedule some focus time then and see if the distractions are easier to deal with.

Remember: Never give up. Never surrender.

What steps can you take today to reduce distractions and be more productive?

Image CC by Rennett Stowe