by Carthage Buckley, Stress and Performance Coach
The ability to focus is one of the most important time management skills that you can possess. The greater your ability to focus, the quicker you can complete a task. In addition, with greater focus, you can complete the task to a higher standard meaning less time is wasted fixing errors. If you want to improve your focus; it takes a great deal of time, effort and commitment, though it is definitely worth it. Luckily, you can greatly improve your chances of developing your focus by removing distractions from your life. A distraction is anything which takes your focus away from the task which you are working on, even briefly. It has been estimated that when you are distracted, it can take up to 23 minutes to regain your focus on the task you were working on. While that figure does seem a little bit high, distractions undoubtedly cause us to lose large chunks of time on a daily basis. Removing these distractions will help you get more focused and achieve better results.
9 Powerful tips to remove distractions
The following 9 tips are powerful ways to remove distractions from your life. They are not very difficult to implement but even if you only implement a few of them; you will see amazing improvements in the quality and quantity of work that you produce.
1. Have office hours
People are likely to call you, text you, email or just walk up to your desk and start talking. This can be a major source of distraction for you. However, they are trying to get your attention because they need your help with something. In some cases, they may have approached the wrong person but in the majority of instances, you are the person they need.
So how do you stop these people from interrupting you when you are trying to work on something important? You establish hours/times where you are available. If they are people whom you regularly deal with, you may want to arrange regular meetings. What you will find is that unless it is an absolute emergency, they will be happy to make a note of their issue and discuss it with you during your pre-arranged time.
2. Schedule your distractions
We all have little distractions that we enjoy e.g. social media, listening to music, going for a coffee. All of these things are enjoyable but they can break our focus and cause our performance levels to drop.
We don’t live life just so we can focus on the things which bring us the least enjoyment. We have to be able to enjoy ourselves too. So, rather than allow these things to distract us and, rather than deny ourselves the little things we enjoy; we can schedule these little distractions into our day and get back to work e.g. I am currently writing this article but when I am done; I am going for a coffee. I know that I will get my coffee but first I must finish this task. As you might imagine, I am more focused and motivated to get this task finished.
3. Don’t stew on it; take action
Every day, a number of small things will go wrong. It is very rare that anybody has a perfect day. Unfortunately, it is human nature to focus on the negatives and forget about the positives. When something goes wrong, no matter how small, we tend to focus on it for prolonged periods. It ends up taking up far more of our attention than it really merits.
Don’t stew on things when they go wrong. Identify what you can do about it, take action and then get on with your day. Just before I began to write this article, I noticed that the iPhone app which I use to check on my email marketing service was broken. Rather than focus on it, I simply contacted the company and asked them to look into it. They will sort it out and email me back when it is done. I am now free to focus on my work.
When negative events occur, take action. Where there is nothing you can do, acknowledge that this is the case and let the issue go.
4. Do not open what you are not using
Sometimes when I get distracted, I realise that the thing which distracted me should not even be open or present. Most of us work on computers each day. How often are you distracted from an important task by an email alert or because you feel the need to check your email? If you are working on an important task; why is your email open in the first place. The same goes for social media, instant messaging, your internet browser etc. If it is not open or it is not available, it is much harder for it to distract you.
One of the most harmful myths in time management is the concept of multi-tasking. You simply cannot multi-task. It is not possible to give your full undivided attention to more than one task at any one time. You are dividing your time between 2 or more tasks and switching between each task. Each time that you switch between tasks, you have to refocus yourself which takes time. In effect, you are voluntarily distracting yourself as each time that you focus on one task, the other tasks become a distraction.
Single tasking is far more effective. Pick one task; the most important task that you can perform with the time and resources available to you and, give your full undivided attention to that task. You will finish the task quicker, to a higher standard and you can then move on to the next task.
6. See it through
Do you ever find yourself making great progress on a task when you suddenly decide that you could do with a quick break? You take a break which lasts longer than you had planned and when you return to the task, you find that you have lost your momentum and it takes some time to get going again. Each of us does this every day. You might not think of it as a break but taking time out to make a quick phone call, check your email, post a social media update etc. is taking a break from the task.
If you are managing your time effectively, you should have broken each job down into their smallest tasks. You should be able to complete one task without distracting yourself with some form of a break. It is easier and more effective to see your task through to the end before you take a break. When you are finished the task, it is usually a natural time for a break anyway so you can take those few minutes and then begin a new task with a fresh mind.
7. Make yourself unavailable
I have already emphasised the value of scheduling office hours to avoid distractions but there is another component which needs to go with that. You must schedule time where you are unavailable so that distractions cannot occur.
I remember when I was starting out in my working life and my then manager hired a coach to improve her time management. The first piece of advice that the coach gave her was to take 2 hours each day where she closed her office door and took the phone off the hook. She had to make it clear to her staff that if the door was closed, she was unavailable; no negotiation. During these two hours each day, she was able to complete more work than she would do during the remainder of the day. That is the power of removing distractions.
It is a common misconception that you need to be at your most effective for the whole day. It is difficult to perform at your highest level for an entire workday. However, if you can schedule 2 hours where you are free from distraction and, you focus on your most important tasks during this time, you will find that you achieve far more than you would otherwise.
8. Detach yourself
I like to remove myself from everything from time to time. I have to do a lot of reading as part of my job; sometimes for a product and sometimes for my own training needs. I find that the best approach for me when I want to read is to go to the local library. It is relatively quiet and because I do not bring my laptop, I cannot be on the internet. Unlike most Irish café’s, the library has very comfortable chairs where I can relax and read peacefully. It is an immensely peaceful experience and I get a lot of valuable work done at the same time.
9. Ditch the constant distractions
If something is a constant distraction and adds little value to your life; it is best to remove it from your life. Things which add value to your life rarely cause a major distraction.
This year, I volunteered with a local club. I created their website. My involvement quickly became a major distraction. The following are just some examples of the distractions:
- I soon found that I was getting phone calls asking me to help with a number of other things which were not related to what I had volunteered for
- I quickly became a dumping ground for work that others wouldn’t do, even though they were happy to take the job title that went with doing the work
- If they couldn’t get me, they rang my brother (who works downstairs from me) to get him to get me
- As the website guy, I was getting phone calls asking me how to do things that could have quickly been looked up in Google
- As I became more involved, I started to learn more about the politics which Governed the club and it was something which caused me a great deal of annoyance
- I even received a phone call at 11pm on a Saturday night from a man who told me a lot of lies to try to get me to change something which was written on the website
Eventually, I came to the realisation that my involvement with this club was causing too much of distraction for my business and I will not be helping out in future. I would love to help out in my community but it cannot be at the cost of my business. If you are involved in a situation which is a constant source of distraction for you, it may be best to remove it completely from your life.
You may not be fully aware of how many distractions you experience on a daily basis but these distractions do add up. One of the most common arguments that you will hear in time management is that someone does not have enough time. The truth is that we have do have enough time, we are just not using that time effectively. By removing distractions and focusing solely on the task you are performing, you can complete more work, to a higher standard, in less time. Focus is one of the most important skills you can possess and you can improve your focus just by removing the things which cause distractions. Pick one tip from the list above, implement it and you will soon start to reap the benefits.
About the author
Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach who helps entrepreneurs, management and driven professionals to identify and eliminate the sources of stress while developing and implementing strategies to realise their objectives and create a happy, healthy and successful life.
The principle philosophy of Carthage’s coaching is that the individual can shape their own world, rather than waiting for their world to shape them. Working from the inside out, it is perfectly possible for each person to create their own life, allowing them to fulfil their personal desires while living in harmony with the world around them.
Carthage has lived and worked in 5 countries and continues to work with clients all around the world, both in person and via the Internet.