Getting work done at work is much harder than it should be. Your attention is precious and distractions are everywhere. So once you’ve arrived at the office, filled your coffee mug, shared your analysis of the Red Sox victory with your boss, and settled in at your desk, what can you do to manage distractions? At Edgework Consulting we’ve spent more than fifteen years looking at time management, and just how much distractions can drain your productivity. You may have had a firm plan for how you were going to tackle the sales reports today, but if the west coast office suddenly has a power outage and you need to monitor their accounts, or you get word that a storm surge threatens to flood your basement, those sales reports are all but forgotten.
In those instances, distractions are unavoidable and important. They become your work. You don’t want to be so singularly focused that a key account doesn’t get a response to an urgent matter, or your basement becomes accessible only via dinghy. And remember, even though a distraction happening at work may not be about “work,” it’s still a distraction happening at work, and it needs to be addressed. While these “distractions” are important, there are many others you can and should minimize. Here’s how to do it.
As different ways of doing business have grown, we’ve added more and more branches to our technology tree. And while this technology can be a huge boost to our productivity and effectiveness (even the fact that you can monitor accounts on the opposite coast is thanks to that technology), it can pull our attention away from the task at hand. To make sure you get the most out of those tools, prune the branches of the technology tree so it is something you control, not the other way around. If a notification, any notification, is not absolutely necessary, turn it off. Without texts, tweets, snapchats, status updates, emails (work, personal), instagrams, apps, phone calls, alerts, push notifications, etc. pulling your attention elsewhere, your ability to focus soars. Do you really need that mail icon appearing in the corner of the screen for every new message? If not, shut it down. You’ll be amazed what curtailing and controlling those notifications does for your attention.
Find a Workspace That Works for You
The first day you arrived at your job you were shown your work station – along with the cafeteria, the water cooler, and loads of paper work. It’s only after you’ve settled in for a few weeks or months that you can get an accurate impression of how useful your work station is for doing work, and even that can change throughout the day depending on the project. Is it noisy during lunch time? Does your window create an unruly glare on your computer screen at 3:00pm? Just because it’s your work station, doesn’t mean you have to do all your work there. Find times and places that work for you. Book a conference room to spread out so you can see all the design proposals at once. Are you reviewing documents all day? Take them to a coffee shop, and treat yourself to a latte as part of your process.
Do the Work In Front of You, and Get Rid of Everything Else
Clear your workspace of everything except for what you’re working on right now. If you’re not working on it at this moment, it shouldn’t be in your line of sight. Hide your phone, your to-do list, and anything else that might pull your attention away – yes, even close Outlook on occasion. If the year-end report due on Friday keeps drawing your eye away from the proposal you’re working on right now, put it somewhere where you can’t see it. If you find yourself still getting up and flipping through the year-end report, it may be a sign that the report is actually the project on which you should be working. Trust your system. And when something unexpected inevitably comes up, trust yourself to make the right decision on whether to do it now or do it later. If you’re not going to do it now, keeping it in front of you will only distract you.
You can only control so much. There are times when you need to be at your desk, you need to have an alert for each new email, or you need to keep a report in front of you in case your boss calls for those sales numbers. But most of the time having fewer items means less distraction, better focus, and more productivity. When your workspace gets too cluttered, you may react by “cleaning up” so a few papers are filed, others are recycled, and another reminds you to email HR. It feels good to de-clutter. Make that de-cluttered look and feeling your default – keep everything organized, and only add items when you are about to work on them. When you’re finished working on an item, remove it. Keeping your space clear will free you to focus. And if that workspace isn’t working, pick up and find a new one that does, at least for now, and maybe one that serves cinnamon buns. Control what you can and limit the distractions that grab your eye and sap your attention. You’ll find that work can be a surprisingly good place to get work done.