Today, I want to share with you a principle that I believe is critically important. You must be proactive about finding times in your day when you are completely focused. I like to call them “focus sessions.” I will be explaining how to set this up in a future post, but today I want to talk about the biggest enemy of focus: distractions.
Every Sunday night before I go to bed, I map out my ideal plan for the week. It helps me to get clarity on what I need to focus on for the week. I also take time to review my past week and see what I could have done better in order to get more things done.
This post is a part of a larger program called the 30 Day Get Productive Challenge. To start at Day 1 click here.
3 Easy Steps to Manage Distractions [Podcast]
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No matter how wonderful my plans are outlined for the week, I will get off track at some point. It is inevitable. In fact distractions and interruptions are inevitable. Unless, you have the ability to work out of a cave isolated to the point that no one knows of your whereabouts, then you will need a plan for managing distractions.
Let me be clear that not every distraction is considered evil or bad. If you have this mindset then you will not only frustrate yourself but others throughout the week. It is better for you to have a plan for how you will manage these distractions.
I want to share with you 3 simple steps for managing distractions throughout your day. While my application is a bit different, I credit Derek Franklin for his initial introduction to me about this concept.
How to Manage Distractions in 3 Easy Steps
Get a 3×5 index card and place it within reach of where you work. I start over with a new index card every morning. I use this card as a place to write down any distraction that comes to mind when I am working in what I call a “focus session.” A focus session is a block of time that I have designated to work on a particular task. I have a deadline (normally about 90 minutes) that I am working up against. As I am working other thoughts, ideas, todos, and interuptions come up.
I have a choice in that moment whether I should go and deal with the distraction or get to it at a later time. I have often found that the main reason I give into that distraction is because I am worried about forgetting about it all together. In fact, another important to do item just came to my mind as I was writing this post.
Record any and all distractions on the card. I usually take a card and draw a line right down the middle. The left side is for “mornings” and the right side is for “afternoons.” As I am working in the morning I will quickly record any distractions that come to mind down on that 3×5 card. Because I have simply gotten it out of my head and recorded it in a place that I will not forget I can get focused back quickly on what I was doing.
There is just something to be said about getting in a state of flow when working. According to studies that have been done, when we give into a distraction it can take up to 24 minutes to get back to the same level of concentration. Think about all of the distractions that we give into in a day’s time and how much time we can waste simply on distractions.
Get It Done Task – Pick 1 or 2 times a day to work on distractions.
Plan two “breakaway sessions” to work on distractions. The best way to handle distractions is to plan for them. The unforeseen will always come up and you need to have a plan for how to handle them when they do. What I like to do is schedule two 30-60 minute blocks of time everyday to work on these interruptions. Remember, distractions are not all bad. What comes to mind might be something really important. So, have a plan so you do not get off track.
I schedule a morning and afternoon breakout session. My morning one happens at 11:30 am just as I am winding down for lunch and the afternoon session happens at 4:30 or 5:00. I use these times to tackle items on my 3×5 card, listen to voicemail, check email, and any other item I need to address. I have found this to work really well for me in the time I have used this system.
The important principle for you to understand is that distractions are inevitable and you must have a plan for dealing with them. Making a schedule and not having a plan for handling distractions will only lead to frustration. If you currently do not have a plan for handling distractions, try this simple system out for a week and see how it works for you. If you want to learn more about the power of focus, I would encourage you to read a book called The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essentials in Business and in Life.
Question: Do you have a plan for handling distractions?