Everyone has their roadblocks – the hiccups in their schedule that can derail a perfectly planned day. Whether it’s getting the children out the door in the morning, taking phone calls from clients, meetings with internal stakeholders, or plain old email, there’s bound to be something in your day that keeps popping up and pulling your attention away from the stuff that really matters.
And it’s a little different for everyone. But there are a handful of common distractions, activities, or behaviors that claim more hours out of more days than anything else in the business world. Here are five of those and the tactics I use to overcome or avoid them on a daily basis.
Image Courtesy: Marie-Chantale Turgeon
Of course number one has to be email. There is nothing more addictive and distracting than the buzz of a phone in your pocket signaling another email. It quite literally creates a physical craving to check, reply, and archive the message as quickly as possible.
So how do I avoid it? To start, I don’t check my email for the first 3 hours of every day. From the moment I wake up until I sit down at my desk at work, I don’t look at it once. There’s no reason to and the extra hours allow me to focus my energies and prepare for the day. Once I DO check it, I use a tool called Boomerang to delay sending replies to messages that I don’t want to hear back from right away. If it’s not urgent, all of my replies are scheduled to go out at noon, so the earliest I’m likely to hear back from anyone is 1pm after lunch. It frees my morning.
Finally, I only check my email three times a day. If something incredibly urgent comes up, my phone number is in my signature. People will call if a website crashes or a client is having a meltdown. No need to be chained to my inbox.
The Post-Lunch Crash
Lunch is good – it’s a one hour break everyone SHOULD take to break away from the chaos of the work day. It’s a good mental siesta that honestly I wish I had time for every day. That’s not the problem.
The problem is when I am too busy to eat a decent breakfast and the sudden rush of 800 calories at lunch time knocks me on my ass. The afternoon crash can sap more energy and time than a hundred unread emails and it all comes back to starting the day right.
I try to eat two or three times before lunch – small things like yogurt, a fruit & nut bar, or a smoothie – to keep my blood sugar steady before lunch. Not only do I eat less when the time comes, I don’t crash into oblivion after eating.
The Internet is an amazing tool – one that allows us to do SO many things that we weren’t capable of before. But it also distracts the heck out of me, even when I’m being as productive as possible. Multiple tabs open at once, Hubspot metrics creeping into the foreground every fifteen minutes, and the million other distractions that are only a click away.
How do I avoid it?
When I know I have a LOT to do, I’ll turn off the WiFi so I have no choice but to focus. I’ll use Gmail Offline to prep and send emails when I’m not connected, I’ll write all my notes and content up in Evernote and then copy it over into Hubspot when I’m ready, and I’ll prep all my Basecamp tasks offline so I can just hit send when I reconnect.
Stripping out that distraction really helps.
Meetings & Calls
In a corporate setting, or if you run your own business and have clients, meetings & calls can be a killer. They eat into your day and can interrupt perfectly productive time in its tracks.
To combat this I’ve done a couple of things. First, I’ve shortened all of my calls to the length my clients seem most comfortable with – usually between 20-30 minutes. Second, I’ve grouped as many of them together as I can. It makes for rough days, but back to back meetings don’t interrupt anything and inevitably, it results in at least 1-2 days per week when I have almost an entire morning or afternoon free to get things done.
Finally, I’m not afraid to ignore an unscheduled phone call or reschedule a meeting. I only do it when necessary, but blindly saying yes or picking up the phone whenever it rings is a recipe for scheduling disaster.
Tomorrow’s To Do List
This is a huge one. How many times have you wasted the last hour of the day trying to figure out how you’re going to get everything done on your list tomorrow? We all do it.
To avoid this problem, I use a task tracking tool that maintains my todo lists on a rotating basis. So I know what’s on my list for tomorrow and every other day this week. Every morning before I dive into my first tasks, I’ll review, update and reorganize for today and tomorrow.
This way I can work out the day without distractions and sometimes even get done early.
The bottom line when it comes to distractions is understanding that almost nothing is required. You can adjust, tweak, and hack your schedule and how you interact with it infinitely to get the results you desire. A day job can severely limit some of your options, but those options are still there and if you do it right, you can become not only more productive, but more valuable to your team – in a way they can’t quite fathom.