It may not look like good news, but for me this mess is a triumph. My dresser will look just as terrible at 6pm as it did at 8 this morning. This wasn’t always the case. I used to find days when I worked at home terribly distracting. Laundry needed to be put away. The tub could use a good scrubbing and oh the errands I could be running! But now, after a lot of hard work, I’m able to look at that pile of clean clothes begging to be put away and gently push it out of my mind.
Whether you are working at home, in an office or at the local library distractions are everywhere. Our minds are constantly bombarded with interruptions. That email nagging at you to be opened. The phone ringing, even the people walking by your desk. Not to mention the personal to-do list that never quite leaves your mind even when you are outside of the house.
With distractions all around us how do we stay focused and work at our best? Over the years I’ve learned four strategies that keep me focused.
#1 Know when to turn off – Sometimes you simply have to turn off your phone, shut down your email, turn your Skype to do not disturb, close your door or even hide in a back conference room where no one will find you. When you simply need no distractions do whatever it takes to get the focused time required; even if that means some people might miss you for a little while.
#2 Schedule it – Most people’s calendars are filled with meetings and appointments. I have my fair share of those. But I also block time for activities that require significant, uninterrupted concentration. That’s not so unusual. Today I have two hours dedicated to writing website copy. But I go one step further. I schedule time for known distractions. That laundry piled on my dresser – it’s scheduled to be put away at 7 am Saturday morning. Before you think I’m some obsessed over planner let me explain. The chances of me actually putting away laundry at 7 am tomorrow are extremely slim. However, I knew it would be a distraction for me today. So I assigned it a time. Being on the calendar gave my brain permission to push it out of my thinking space. Tomorrow morning when I wake up I’m either going to put away the laundry or move it to my “to-do list”. It’s not important that it get done at 7, it’s important I stopped thinking about it.
#3 Write it down – Like my Yoga instructor reminds me, you can’t stop your thoughts, acknowledge them and let them pass. Unlike when I’m lying down on my yoga mat, acknowledging for me means writing down my distractions. It could be an idea for a campaign, or a reminder to call the dentist. I use a combination of notebooks, an iPhone to-do application and my electronic calendar. When I write down what’s distracting me I give myself permission to move back to my task at hand.
#4 Plan your priorities – I have a long to do list. If I simply woke up every day and tried to make the most checks it might feel gratifying, but I wouldn’t be focused on my priorities. Instead I clearly rank what things are most important to do today and they go to the top of the list. Because I’m a type A personality I also add a couple of easy things into the mix as high priorities. I feel good when I’ve check off something and that keeps me motivated. This used to feel silly to me, but it works so I no longer worry about whether it is artificial satisfaction. It’s not enough to have a list to do, you must remember what things are most important.
The next time you feel overwhelmed by distractions take a deep breath and don’t let them get the best of you.