The workday is full of endless distractions. Just looking out your window can provide hours of entertainment. My view of K Street in Washington, D.C. features a steady stream of business people walking briskly to important appointments and lunch meetings; tourists who I assume wandered too far from the National Mall in search of a cheap lunch spot; an endless supply of impatient drivers honking their horns in bumper-to-bumper traffic; and joggers … so many joggers.
But looking out your window is just one of countless tempting diversions, many easily accessible and threatening to your professional success; none so insidious as your digital tools. Everything from the world wide web to your handy-dandy smartphone can cause you to lose focus on that important report and throw you into a tailspin of mindless clicking and consumption of shallow entertainment news.
To reduce work distractions and keep your employers swooning over your performance, consider these six simple steps:
- Dedicate a couple minutes each hour to decompress
It’s difficult to stay focused on your work with so many distractions just a click away. Tantalizing Buzzfeed headlines and pop culture listicles lure us from serious research, and within seconds our day is derailed with thoughts of the 15 stunning photos that will make you want to see the world, and 21 dogs who made poor life choices. (As I write this, I’m fighting the urge to revisit photos number 4 and 17, respectively.)
Rather than completely eliminate these fun yet unproductive temptations, dedicate a couple minutes each hour to indulge. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, a tough equation or simply need to give your eyes a rest from a spreadsheet, shifting focus for those few minutes can refresh your mind and stimulate your creativity.
- Schedule your time on social media
There’s no better place to find our favorite listicles, gifs, and videos than on social media, which reigns as the top deterrent of productivity. According to a report conducted by Business Insider, Americans spend more time on social media than any other Internet activity, including email. That’s great news for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the countless other social apps taking up storage on our smartphones; bad news for your employer.
To avoid wasting hours on social media, and possible disciplinary action from your boss, schedule your time on social media. Allot 10 minutes before the work day begins and maybe 10 minutes over your lunch break. That way, you’ll feed your appetite for social connectivity without wasting billable hours.
- When in the office, keep your smartphone out of sight if not being used for business
It’s hard to disconnect from social media, especially when you see new alerts popping up on your phone from the corner of your eye. Sure, we make valiant efforts to fight temptation and tell ourselves Twitter can wait, but most of the time the desire to know who retweeted our hilarious commentary on Hillary’s email-gate is too great. The best way to avoid such a conundrum is to keep our phones out of sight as much as possible while in the office. It won’t be easy, but it will increase your focus and productivity.
- Don’t stop for every email
The average person receives approximately 105 emails per day. If you stop to check every incoming email or read every message popup before it fades, you lose momentum and productivity. Give yourself a time interval, say every 15 to 30 minutes to check email (unless you’re expecting something from the boss). If Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer can be successful without email, chances are you can cut back and be just fine.
- Avoid music with lyrics
White noise in the backdrop of the workday can be a stress reliever and help you keep focus. Spotify, Pandora and YouTube can set the rhythm and help keep spirits high, but if you’re hoping to avoid distractions, you’ll also need to avoid some of your favorite channels. Taylor Swift’s sick beats are great when you’re getting ready for a night on the town, but won’t help you prepare for a client meeting.
To reduce distraction, avoid music with lyrics. Jazz or classical stations are great for relaxing, filler noise and won’t tempt you show off your sweet dance moves in the middle of the office.
- Plan your day (as best as you can)
When you have a daunting work load and everything requires immediate attention, it’s easy to stare at your computer screen and let yourself become overwhelmed by your to-do list. Without a plan of attack, you leave yourself open to any distraction that will keep you from starting your busy day.
Creating a plan will help overcome the onset of professional paralysis when staring down the barrel of an action-packed day. List your tasks in order of importance, and assign a time limit to keep you on track.
Of course, there will be days that are completely unpredictable and you’re hit with one urgent task after another, rendering your plan irrelevant. But on a regular basis, planning out your work day will keep you organized, reduce stress and help you overcome the limitless distractions that coincide with being overwhelmed.
Now having read this, how many of you clicked on the photos and song titles while at work? If it was during your allotted few minutes this hour, well, good for you.
By Nicole Tieman, SDI, March 19, 2015