It’s easy to get lost in a busy workload, especially with the increasing interruptions of digital technology. One moment you can be deeply focused, and then a notification pops up. Your brain switches before you know it, and suddenly you’re looking at a photo of your friend’s cat.
This is just one kind of interruption that can impede your ability to deliver valuable work. Not only does this pull you out of what you were doing, but it also creates a feeling of having far too much to do, and not enough time to do it in, which can overwhelm you.
Breaking down possible distractions will help. Think about what kind of distractions and interruptions you face daily. Is it colleagues, calls from clients, or your own constant urge to check your notifications that’s blocking you? Here are some of the key things we’ve noticed.
Mobile Phone Notifications
Notifications on your phone are a huge opportunity for distraction. If you don’t need to have your phone near you during work hours, then tuck it away somewhere and set times at which you can check it (e.g. lunch). It might be tough at first to resist the urge- after all, notification checking can be quite addictive- but stick to your times and your brain will become clearer and clearer.
If you do need your phone nearby, there’s many things you can do to reduce the impact. Think about what you absolutely need to hear, for example phone calls, and change the settings on your phone to only notify you of these during your work hours. Many smartphones will allow high customisation of notification settings, which you can use to reduce the clutter.
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Emails: The Two Minute Rule
Think about how much you need to check your emails. Most people don’t need to constantly receive notifications, but many do. This can pull you instantly from what you’re working on and onto something else, and even if you ignore the alert message it might be too late to stop your brain from switching priority. If you do need to check often, try checking every hour on the hour.
Once you start working through emails, follow the two-minute rule. If the email will take more than two minutes to deal with, or if you need to follow it up, add it to your to-do list. If it will take less, deal with it there and then. Be tough on spam, newsletters and articles, and unsubscribe or segment these from your more important messages. Don’t leave your inbox with any messages in it once you’ve committed to checking it.
Interruptions from Colleagues
Another potential risk is interruption from colleagues. It might seem like you can’t do much about these, but there are ways to work around them.
You’ll need to tailor this to your situation. For example, if you’re often interrupted for status updates on projects or tasks, then try to have short daily update meetings. Here at Liberonet we have a daily meeting to run through current work, discuss any impediments and refocus team priorities. This is timeboxed; we’ll only spend 15 minutes maximum on this, at the start of the day, and we’ll stand up during the meeting to keep it short. Since we’ve done this we’ve noticed a massive reduction in ad-hoc status requests from each other.
Another common risk is interruption from staff, especially junior or new, asking for help. Encourage staff to work through everything they must do and write a list of questions to discuss in a dedicated meeting. If you need to show them new skills, try to avoid flipping between your own work and helping them with theirs. It’s usually easier and faster to dedicate yourself to them for a portion of your time, and work on your own tasks for the rest.
If you have a pressing deadline, or some other time-sensitive work to get done, make a polite request to your colleagues to ask you any questions they need to before you get stuck in. Sometimes, just asking nicely will do the trick, especially if they’re aware of what you need to do and can empathise. Offer an opportunity for them up front, and then ask that they write down anything non-urgent and bring it up when you’re done.
Create a tailored anti-distraction plan
List the things which impact you the most at your job, especially when you need to knuckle down and get stuff done. Rank them in terms of their impact on you, and how likely it is that you can reduce or remove them. Then work to clear up your headspace, piece by piece.
Once you’ve cleared your headspace, you need a great task management methodology to get the most out of your distraction-free time. The next article in this series covers how you can use Kanban, a method initially developed for building cars, to work efficiently and fast.