Distractions happen, and so it is unrealistic to expect to be able to eliminate them completely. A realistic expectation is to aim to manage them in a way that helps you to be more effective and meet deadlines.
It is likely that you already know what distracts you the most. Common distractions include phone calls and voicemails, emails, and conversations with colleagues. These are all part of an average working day, but can add up to large amounts of valuable time being lost if not proactively managed. What's more, regaining your concentration after a distraction can take quite a few minutes, resulting in further reduced productivity.
The information that follows provides guidance and techniques that you can use to help minimise distractions. Consider which are relevant to you at the moment and make any changes you feel will bring about the most effective results.
1) Focus on a number of key activities.
A long list of things 'To Do' can be a distraction in itself!
• Prioritise. At the start of each day, or week, commit to focusing on two or three of the most important tasks on your list. Tianne Croshaw uses a Traffic Light system – whereby she identifies the tasks that need to be done that day (red), those which would be great to achieve (amber) and those which can wait (green). Find a system which works for you.
• Plan time for interruptions. Is it realistic to think you will spend 5 solid hours working on one piece of work?
• Review your week. Keep a record of what you spend your time doing - do you spend 3 hours managing interruptions, and 4 hours doing ‘actual’ work? You might also benefit from spending 5 minutes looking back at the end of each week to review what key activities you achieved against what you set out to achieve.
2) Manage interruptions from colleagues.
Your colleagues create distractions and so it is important to take steps to reduce tihs.
• Communicate. Let others know what you are doing and ask for their support and consideration if you have a lot on. If you can, let your colleagues and manager know that you are planning on focusing on a specific piece of work, and to disrupt you only if necessary.
• Consider your working environment. If you have the option, close your office door for a while. Alternatively, can you book a room away from your desk where you can work alone for a period of time? Be flexible to a degree, and so let your team know that they can reach you if there is an urgent matter to address.
3) Take control of email and phone calls
Email is useful; however it can also be one of the biggest workplace distractions. Similarly, phone calls can create continual interruptions if not managed effectively. Planning in advance can be the key to taking control over these interruptions, rather than allowing them to control your day.
• Plan in 'email' time. Allocate specific times to check and reply to emails. For instance, you could check email when you first arrive at the office, at lunch, and right before you leave for the day.
• Turn off your phone when you can. If you need to focus on a specific project, switch your phone to voicemail and leave a specific message to let callers know when you will be getting back to them.
• Review your productivity. Take a look at your review of your working week (covered in point 1) and identify when you are at your most productive. Remember that this will be different for everyone. Schedule in time to respond to emails and phone calls during times when you are not at peak productivity.
• Keep your email minimised. When you're not using your email program, close it down. Alternatively, you might want to turn off the alerts that can provide distractions. This can help to reduce the temptation to check it constantly!