We're all guilty of allowing little things to distract us from what we should be doing. But the more efficiently you work, the bigger the returns you will receive.
Ask yourself where you truly want to be in your professional life and how soon you want to get there. Now, ask yourself how many things you did today, yesterday and the day before that directly contributed to the future results you want. Finally, review how many things you did today that did not contribute to your success. Those things probably distracted you from what you should have been doing. Distractions offer no return and no profit.
When you're working on something listed on your calendar, focus on that activity alone. Ignore the message light on your phone and the beeps from your email. To achieve balance and success in work and life, the miscellaneous distractions that consume your time with little or no return must be eliminated. A demanding business requires consistent time management, effective delegation and the ability to say, "No."
The following 11 principles can help to eliminate distractions and interruptions.
1. Use and honor your calendar and master task list. Honoring your calendar will help you focus on the right activities—those with the highest probability of helping you achieve your goals. Create a list that prioritizes the actions you need to focus on. Keep all this information in one place, a file on your desktop or a journal on your desk. No more pieces of paper all over the desk or trying to remember what to do. Check your list and calendar throughout the day to keep on track.
2. Discourage walk-in traffic. Set specific times when you're available to talk and accept walk-ins. Ideally, face-to-face and phone appointments are the most effective way to run a successful business. If you work at home, apply this rule to your family also.
Establish clear boundaries for the times when you are not to be distracted, unless it's an emergency. Try posting a "Do Not Disturb" note on your door. Teaching others to respect your time is a win-win situation. You can focus on your scheduled tasks and those around you will learn better time management skills from your example.
3. Screen your calls. Set a schedule of when you're available to accept calls. Outside of those times, arrange a screening process to allow only the most important calls to break through. This, too, leads to working efficiently.
4. Check your email at specific times only. Email is easily one of the biggest distractions in modern life. Checking your inbox first thing in the morning can reduce your focus on high-priority tasks. Rechecking it 20 times during the day significantly impacts your productivity. Schedule two to three specific times each day when you check email for a specific amount of time.
You can even set your out-of-office message to alert people to this. Here's an example of an email response I received from a client: "Thank you for your email. I have completed my email communication for today. As such, I will review and respond to your message tomorrow after 4:00 p.m. CST."
5. Stay off the Internet. Who hasn't logged on to the web and gotten sucked into wasting hours and hours of time? These virtual distractions aren't productive. Avoid getting on the web as much as possible. If you have to get your fix, log on at the end of the workday, or at a specific time during the day. Set a time that you honor—say after 4 p.m.—and don't get on it before then, unless you absolutely have to because it is related to your highest payoff work.
6. De-clutter your desktop. Magazines you never get around to reading and the picture of your significant other need to be moved out of your immediate field of vision. Keep only the items you are currently working on right in front of you. Keep only current files on your desk and file away others that may distract you until you need them.
7. Remove computer desktop icons. If you have a tendency to click on the Solitaire icon for a quick game, delete it. Out of sight, out of mind, is a good policy.
8. Eliminate noises. Listen to soothing instrumental music if you feel you need to listen to something, but talk radio or lyrical music will distract you from focusing on the task at hand. Even alert sounds from your computer can be distracting, such as the sound you hear when you receive an incoming email. Some people get easily distracted by the sound of others typing or talking on the phone or to one another. Consider wearing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones while you're working to eliminate surrounding noise.
9. Ask for what you want. Asking for what you want is always appropriate, but it must be done with tact and friendliness. Busy professionals appreciate concise, focused conversation. You can show that you respect their time by not wasting it needlessly. Clear and concise communication saves time for everyone.
When you call someone, start by saying, "Hi Jane, I know you're busy so the purpose of my call today is..." Most busy people appreciate you getting to the point of the call quickly.
The same principle applies when you receive a call. You might say: "Hi Tom, What can I do for you?" This can help shorten the pleasantries and encourage callers to get to the point.
10. Keep conversations pointed and brief. Everyone appreciates productive conversation. If you find yourself in a conversation that's not progressing to a point or conclusion, wrangle it in so that you can get to a solution. Superficial chitchat is not helpful. If you would like to talk to someone, at least have a meaningful conversation to avoid wasting time. Nothing personal, but most people would rather spend their time on things they would like to be doing, which likely does not include you.
You might even consider having some meetings be "huddles" where you don't allow anyone to sit down (unless they are physically unable to stand). Depending on the agenda, "huddles" can be a great way to shorten the meeting time.
11. Work when no one else is around. This is often the greatest distraction eliminator available. You can sometimes accomplish more in two hours with no one else around than you can in eight hours with a full office. Take advantage of alone time whenever you can without sacrificing the personal time needed to maintain life balance.
We live in a frenetic, multitasking, instant gratification society, so it is easy to get lost in the distractions that constantly bombard us. Remind yourself that little distractions offer little return, if any, for the time you've invested. Stick to productive tasks that build your success. You might even have a better chance of acting on your good intentions instead of paving the road to ruin with them!