distractions

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“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson,  The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Distractions can be big or small and they can land in front of you or creep up from behind. Working from home is full of optional diversions: laundry, exercise, pets, Facebook. Working in an office offers its own set of obstacles: chatting with co-workers, coffee breaks, weekend gossip and endless email access and non pertinent meetings. My high school kids have their own set of complications: phones, peers, gossip and fun. Judging by the quote above, distractions have been around for quite a while, so it is up to us to regulate and refrain. How to do that in today’s world? Here are 5 tips to keep you on track:

  1.  Turn off phone notifications.  The average person checks their phones 150 times a day, according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’s annual Internet Trends report. To limit the distractive nature of your smart phone, turn off all nonessential notifications (email, Facebook, Twitter, games, etc.). This will allow you to check your apps on your schedule, at appropriate times throughout the day –  and maybe lower your phone check average to say, 100 times a day!
  2.  Knock out quick projects first. Our minds are often cluttered by the many unfinished projects around us (unanswered email, chores, financial responsibilities). Many of these projects can be completed quickly and easily, yet provide a huge sense of accomplishment. So unload the dishwasher, fold that one load of laundry, or balance your checkbook, then move on and dig into the real projects.
  3. Remove digital clutter. Desktop icons, open programs, and other visible notifications jockey for your focus.   Notice the digital triggers that grab your attention and remove them.  (I just had an email notification pop up this instant!! – I am turning that off as soon I check out that last email)! You’ll be surprised at your newfound ability to focus. Just like digital clutter  distracts our attention, physical clutter accomplishes the same. Clear your desk, your walls, your counters, and your home of unneeded possessions.
  4. Accept and accentuate your personal rhythms. Discover the high energy times of your day to capitalize on those times as well as the low rungs to set aside time to re-charge. I hit the ground running with ideas, energy and positivity. But, by about 4:00 pm, I am ready to sit and have a moment – perfect Facebook time! My husband is the opposite. He likes to ease into his day and is extremely productive between lunch and late afternoon. Different rhythms make the world go around.
  5. Most importantly, don’t allow distractions to develop into habits. Distractions can be a good break if managed well and don’t keep you from reaching deadlines or goals. Burnout and fatigue easily set in without small breaks. However, if 15 minutes turns into 30 minutes into an hour and repeats, then you have crossed from distraction to addiction. I am familiar with this as we are currently working on my 15 year old’s “distraction/addiction” of Netflix!

When you reduce distractions, you’ll find that you’re able to be more productive as well as produce work of higher quality –and both are results you and your employer will value.

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6 Comments

  1. Emory Rowland on September 7, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Right on, Natalie. I’ve been experimenting with shutting off phone and email until noon on some days. So far, I am liking it.

  2. Rani on September 8, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Words if wisdom! Delete all the extraneous email subscriptions that truly don’t add value. It’s easy to get sucked into fluff “news” and then wonder where the time went. Delete!

  3. Mickey on September 10, 2014 at 9:19 am

    I’ve found that the Gmail “tabs” (primary, social, promotions, updates) help quite a bit, as it allows you to be distracted by “primary” emails (which often need rapid response), but lets the others pile up quietly. Two things help with this:

    1 — In labs is an “unread message icon” option, which puts a small number next to your Gmail icon in the browser bar. This number only shows “primary” emails.
    2 — On Android (not sure about iPhone), you can set it to only notify you for “primary” emails. The others still land on the phone so you can deal with them during downtime, but they do it without a notification.

    I’m finding the new “Android Wear” watch to be helpful as well. When I get an email on my watch, I can archive it immediately (when appropriate), leaving me less clutter to deal with when I have a chance to look at my inbox. It’s not a big difference, but handling an extra 5-10 emails/day that way really can add up.

    Good stuff!

    • Natalie Epperson (@NatalieEpperson) on September 16, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      Interesting point about the wearable technology. With the unveiling of the Apple watch this week, I do think it will be extremely hard to focus and unplug. But maybe we can all be as disciplined as you and use it to our advantage – not an another distraction!! Thanks Mickey!

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