I’m passionate about productivity.  I love getting the most out of my day, finishing everything I planned, and achieving my goals. 

However, distractions are real.  The right distraction can derail our progress.

I have found that the best way to deal with distractions is to be aware of what can pull me off task and have a system to deal with it.  

I will share with you some techniques you can use to deal with distractions because I’m sure you would rather stay focused and on task so that you can spend time on what (or with whom) you want at the end of the day. 

Identify your distractions.

Before we can create a system to deal with a distraction, we must first identify the distractions for you. 

I find the best way to uncover your distractions is to do a time study.  I can hear you groaning now.  LOL 

But let’s face it, tracking your time will give you a clear picture of when and what pulls you away from your tasks.  

You may not be aware of how many times a day you check your email.  Or how often your phone rings from family and friends.  Maybe you allow meetings to run overtime frequently, or that 30-minute social media check-in becomes 90 minutes.  Mine is the half-hour lunch break that turns into 90 minutes because I got lost in a book.  

A time study can efficiently uncover what your distractions are. 

Try tracking all your time for one week and see what you learn about yourself.  

Here are some distractions that you might uncover: 

  • Unscheduled social calls (or a chatty co-worker)
  • Social media
  • Frequent email checking
  • Chores around the house (if you work from home)
  • Meetings that run over time 
  • Clutter

Three tips for dealing with external distractions.

Any of the above distractions on their own are not bad things.  What makes them troublesome is that they pull you away from the task you need to do right now.  

The best way to handle them is to have a plan, a system to deal with them.  

After doing your time study, you know what your distractions are and can pick the right tip for the right distraction. 

  1. Schedule it:  I love this tip. It’s how I manage many things that historically have plagued me.  For example, I schedule time each day for social media.  You can also try this with email. On average, we check email four times an hour!  Crazy right?  Maybe try scheduling an email check four times a day.  Keep it closed and notifications off the rest of the time.
  2. Set limits:  This is how I’ve had to manage reading at lunch.  I set a time limit for the activity and an alarm to go with that limit.  I use this for reading, playing games, or watching TV.  I find that setting the alarm makes a big difference for those things that I will lose track of time with.
  3. Clear the clutter:  I find it harder to stay focused when my desk is cluttered.  When this happens, I have to stop and clean it up.  This can be a distraction.  I have found that the best way is to set up a process of tidying up my desk at the end of the day.  This means filing everything, getting the tea mugs off my desk, and tidying up my work.   I also recommend doing something similar for the rest of the house.  Schedule a few minutes at the end of the day to tidy up.  It can pay dividends the next day. 

These are my three favorite tips for dealing with distractions.  Yet, I want to share two bonus tips to bring to your attention. 

You can use technology to help you manage your distractions.  For example, you can use apps to track your activities and limit your use.  Others can remove or block access to websites and applications. 

I also recommend you go offline or device free for periods of time. Let’s start with a few hours a week or no devices at meal times.  Then you can work up to no tech after 10 pm during the week.  Or you may pick a day a month when you go offline.   The goal is to allow yourself to rest and relax.  Get outside, enjoy your family or friends.  Try it; you never know what you might discover.

Looking at your distractions, what will you put in place to help you stay on task?  

Conquer your internal distractions

So far, I’ve talked about external distractions; honestly, I could leave the blog here.  But the biggest thing that distracts me (besides a good book) is my head.  Every day, when I write out my intentions, I include the following:  

I intend to stay focused and not get distracted today. 

And while I do an excellent job of managing the external distractions, I need help managing the internal ones.   

However, I have found some ways that work for me and will share them with you now. 

  1. Be kind to yourself:  You are human, so when you find yourself distracted or unfocused, don’t criticize yourself—practice self-compassion.  Once you realize it, take a deep breath and gently guide yourself back on track. 
  2. Stop multitasking: I’ve written blogs about the myth of multitasking as a productivity tool.  However, as much as I believe that multi-tasking is the worst thing we can do from a productivity perspective, I still catch myself doing it.  I have caught myself working on a Social media image for a post while waiting for something to print.  However, I then got caught up in the post, distracted from the task I was working on—switching our attention when multi-tasking is draining and causes errors. Let’s do ourselves a favor and focus on one thing at a time.  Seriously, it doesn’t take that long to print something. 
  3. Get enough sleep: I am more easily distracted when I am tired.  I have more trouble focusing on larger tasks and often look for small, manageable tasks.   Do what you can to get enough sleep and even track your energy levels.  Is there a time of day you have more energy than another or a day of the week?  Then plan specific tasks around these high-energy times. 
  4. Take breaks:  I like using pomodos in my day.  Taking a quick break every 25 minutes and a more extended break every 2 hours helps me manage my day.  However, I also know that some things I do, like writing a blog, I do better without the little 5-minute interruptions.  I like to book 90 minutes of solid time for those activities and then take a 30-minute break.  Find a combination of work/break sprints that work for you to maximize your focus. 

You can stay focused and achieve more by implementing the techniques to manage distractions effectively.  But remember that your productivity journey is unique to you. Experiment with these tips, and find out what best suits your needs.  Start by trying one of two of these tips.  But be sure to evaluate them.  What worked, what didn’t, and what will you stop, change or start and tweak to fit you?  Then try another tip. 

What tip will you try first?  Let us know. 

There are always distractions if you allow them.

Tony La Russa

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