Reacting to every interruption or distraction from your environment is the biggest productivity killer. That’s because it takes 5, 10, 30 or even more minutes to fall back into a working flow every time you’re interrupted (one big study showed it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds on average). And there are so many interruptions and distractions out there today. It’s insane.
Here is the list of the main distractions going after your attention:
- Managers and people stopping by
- Social media
- Instant messaging
- Daily news
- Logistics and waiting time
- Entertainment (TV, games, etc.)
- Smartphones (as all in one distraction)
- Energy vampires
- Worry etc.
Before we dive deep into all these different types of distractions in the future blog posts and how to manage them properly, let me give you some general strategies for organizing your day in the most productive way possible regarding distractions.
Strategies to minimize distractions
Here is by far the best advice for dealing with distractions. The best way to deal with distractions is to eliminate all the distractions way before they get a chance to kick you out of the working flow. You have to outsmart all the distractions and interruptions. There are three simple steps to do that.
Step one is to identify your personal main distractions and which interruptions you’re most prone to. There are many different types of distractions and interruptions, but we all have one or two that are our kryptonite – you know, the thing that cripples Superman.
So, your first step is to identify which distractions you are most vulnerable to. Is it checking social networks, email, phone or browsing fake news on the web?
Let’s go to the second step. The second step is really important. It goes like this: Don’t count on your self‑discipline when it comes to distractions and interruptions. You have zero chance of winning a fight with distractions. Zero. None. Nobody does. The only way you can win this fight is to outsmart distractions. Are you wondering how to do that? Well, that leads us to step three.
You outsmart distractions and interruptions by building yourself a system that you strictly follow. You introduce a set of rules in your working day that need no discipline muscle or struggle to be followed.
Build yourself a system to outsmart distractions and interruptions
Let me share a simple set of rules that I follow to outsmart distractions:
- Wake up 2 hours before everybody else and immediately do the most important task of the day.
- Never do something when the majority of the people do it – for example commuting or going to the gym.
- Have one technology detox day during the weekend, completely without any devices.
- For all scheduled focused work in the flow, put a “do not disturb” sign on the door, turn off phone and disconnect from the internet. And let people know during which hours of the day you’re not available.
- And lastly, take one day in a working week to work on your strategic goals for the whole day without any interruptions or distractions. No meetings, no phone calls, no social networks, nothing. Just deep work, the whole day.
These are the rules that I currently follow. I helped many people and organizations introduce a very similar set of rules based on their situation, so people can work on creating and delivering value without being distracted.
Other examples of such rules can be:
- Leave all the coworkers to work in peace before 10am or after 2pm
- If a coworker has a red flag on their desk, it means they should absolutely not be disturbed
- You have one hour for email per day, so answer all the emails as quickly as possible in a single sprint in the afternoon
- Never open email first thing in the morning
- Install a web nanny that limits how much time you spend on time‑wasting sites and social networks
- Minimize the social network loop by deleting social networks you don’t use often and so on
You have to analyze your weak points, set the rules to help you neutralize the weaknessess, grab the most appropriate productitivty tools, and build a unique system that really works for you. You have to outsmart yourself and the environment you currently operate in. It's not that easy to do that, but it’s hard to be productive if you don’t organize yourself and everything around you in a smart way.
And never rely on your self-discipline, because this is not how you win this game. Think of yourself as an architect of a system that will enable you to be super productive.