During the course of a given day, think about how many different ways you might be distracted from the tasks you have in front of you – a notification pops up in the corner of your screen letting you know you have a new email, your phone vibrates to let you know you received a new message on Twitter, the phone rings… and the list goes on and on. Let’s face facts – we live in distraction oriented culture, where we’re encouraged to be in near-constant contact with the outside world.
While staying in touch is great in theory, being constantly available to the outside world can be an ongoing source of distractions and interruptions. In my work with clients, many of them say that dealing with these distractions has become a major part of daily life, and is taking a toll on their productivity. Here are some strategies for stemming the tide of interruptions and getting back on track towards being more efficient:
Prioritize your key tasks. Before you start your work each day, take a few moments to write down what your priority tasks are going to be that day. Set aside time on your calendar to work on those tasks, and make those times “communication free zones” – meaning that you won’t check email, answer calls, or instant-message during those times, unless doing so relates specifically to the project you’re working on. Setting aside this space to work on your projects will help you stay focused and get closer to your goal of finishing a given task.
Beware of “helpful” notifications. Pretty much every system we use to communicate, whether it’s instant message, email, social media, voice mail, text messaging, etc., has a way to notify us when we’ve received a new message or communication request. Ask yourself, are these notifications serving you, or are they an interruption? For most of us, the latter is the case. Instead of allowing these tech tools distract you, set specific times during the day when you will check for new messages, email, etc., and turn off the notifications. You could check your various inboxes twice a day, every few hours, or every hour, depending on the volume of communication you receive. Very, very few messages are so urgent that they can’t wait an hour or two for you to return the communication.
Don’t get sucked into the social media vortex. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace… these are all great tools, and can be a lot of fun. They can also generate a voluminous amount of messages that require your attention and time. If you’re using these tools for purely personal use, limit your use of them to outside business hours, and set some parameters about how much time you’d like to spend on them. If social media is a part of your business, make sure to set aside time on your calendar during your work day to process your new messages and friend requests. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that managing these sites is something that can be done in the ever-elusive “spare time” – keeping current with your profiles has to become part of your scheduled tasks.
These are some of my favorite ways to reduce communication-related distractions – what are some of yours?