What kills your productivity? Is it lack of direction? Is it lack of planning or focus? Well, based on a whole host of research by some much esteemed organizations, its distractions! In fact, the average person wastes up to 25% of their time each year engaged in useless or low level activities. 25%!
What does this mean? It means, if you could recapture most of your unproductive time, you could do a month’s worth of work in 3 weeks! Image being able to get everything accomplished in your business each month and have a week free to do what you want. Sounds far-fetched, even impossible right? May be not.
Where do distractions come from?
Here’s the scoop about distractions. The majority of things that distract us are self inflicted. That’s right. We invite distractions into our lives every single day. Many of us have so many distraction points working against us we struggle each day to get anything important accomplished.
Distractions are a form of divergence. They are an escape mechanism to shield us from tasks we really don’t want to do and a gratification trigger to satisfy what really pleases us. Regardless of what you are influenced by, distractions are an easy, almost painless way to divert your attention away from or towards things that make you feel better.
Now, let’s look at the 4 most common distraction triggers that create the greatest potential for wasting time.
1. Environmental clutter:
Clutter is deadly on your ability to focus. Your sense of vision is one of the greatest transmitters of data to the brain. When your field of view is cluttered, your brain has trouble focusing and processing thoughts. These are the findings of a study conducted by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute.
Being surrounded by clutter is the equivalent of have people standing next to you screaming for attention! Cleaning out the clutter can have a massive impact on your ability to stay on track and move through tasks at a much faster, more accurate rate of completion.
If you suffer from too much clutter in your office, your car (if you travel frequently) or your home, attack it now and clean it out! A favorite technique of mine is to pick up and handle each item once. Decide right then to deal with it; file or store it; or throw it out. You’ll be surprised at how energized you get just from going through the exercise of cleaning out your own clutter.
2. Think before you say Yes:
Do you find yourself saying ‘yes’ to things you later wish you hadn’t? It happens all the time to people who like to please or just want to help others. This form of distraction causes you to actually spend your own valuable time working on other people’s stuff! Now, there are always times when saying ‘yes’ is the right thing to do but the majority of times, you can effectively help the other person without agreeing to do it for them.
If you are prone to taking on ill thought out commitments, try this technique. Use the, ‘it’s either a Hell Yes or a NO’ strategy. I was introduced to this concept by a good friend in a mastermind group. The idea is to assume the answer is ‘No’ unless you feel compelled to say ‘Yes”. This way, you have a real good reason for committing and avoid the knee jerk response of saying yes, then regretting your decision later. If you say no, be prepared to offer a suggestion about how the person can solve their own issue or handle the thing they wanted you to take on.
3. Make your calendar your boss:
Often times, we waste time or engage in unproductive activity because we have nothing more important on our schedule. This is a problem of not being accountable to ourselves. Fact is most of us never learned how to be accountable to ourselves. We learned how to be accountable to other people. If you find that projects drag on or goals seemly never get accomplished, you need more accountability.
One way to create a level of accountability to yourself is to make your calendar your boss. Make sure you have a good calendar system; one that can be accessed with any mobile device. Now, make a calendar entry for every task, project or goal action step you are planning to accomplish. If it’s on your calendar, treat it like a client appointment. You won’t blow off a client, would you?
4. Control your exposure to gadgets:
Technology is a wonderful thing. It’s responsible for more innovation today than at any point in prior history. It’s also responsible for more wasted time than anything else we engage in. From email to texting, the gadgets you carry around with you are built in distractions just waiting for you to invite them in.
Every time you break from a planned task to answer a notification on your phone, it takes approximately 23 minutes for the average person to get back on track. With emails, texts, social media and other phone maintenance announcements popping up on your phone, you could literally be distracted all day. Some workplace studies have found that office workers waste up to 4 hours a week checking social media sites or surfing other things.
What's the answer?
All of these productivity suggestions require two things; initiative and practice. If you are serious about eliminating your endless stream of distractions so you can be more productive and effective, you need to attack the problem at its core. Start today and engage in some productivity practice each day until your focus and effectiveness at accomplishing your most important activities becomes second nature.
There are no silver bullets to this problem! Just recognize why and how you get distracted then change the behavior that causes it.
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About the Author
Steve provides leadership, management and marketing coaching to business owners, executives and entrepreneurs worldwide. Considered the Catalyst for Change by the California Business Journal, Steve has coached over 400 business professionals to date.