Five Ways to Reduce Interruptions and Get More Done

Today’s work world is riddled with productivity saboteurs.  You know what I’m talking about.  You’re just getting some real traction on a big project that requires your full attention when someone knocks on your door.  Oh, they “just need a minute” of your time, but that minute totally derails your productivity!  In fact, it can take up to 20 minutes to get back on task after even the smallest interruptions. 

Five Small Ways to Maintain Focus

There are a number of ways you can reduce the number of interruptions and distractions you suffer throughout the day.  Try some of these to see if you don’t end up with better results and a greater sense of success:

1.  Face Away From Traffic.  If you have an office, it’s my bet that you face the door.  It’s what I call the Command Central position – back to the wall, imposing edifice (the desk) between you and intruders, and eyes always on the lookout for those pesky interlopers.  The problem with this positioning is that your eyes are attracted to motion.  Therefore, whenever someone walks by your door, you involuntarily look up.  The results is a self-inflicted and totally unnecessary interruption.  Moreover, if you catch someone’s eye, they’re likely to come in and sit down!

Try facing away from the traffic.  This will eliminate the self-inflicted interruptions and cause those passing by to strongly consider whether to interrupt you as they can see you are working.  It’s a great way to easily increase focus and productivity.

2.  Turn New Message Alerts Off.  Turn off the new message alert feature of you e-mail inbox, your cell phone, your smartphone or, if you’re still in the 90s, your pager.  These are also self-imposed productivity saboteurs and they are completely unnecessary.  Simply check your e-mail, texts, and voice mails regularly to ensure that you’re managing everything that’s going on in a timely fashion.

I once timed a client who I was instructing in some Outlook setup steps when her head turned to view a new e-mail alert that popped during my instruction.  It took her four seconds to look down, read the subject line of the e-mail, look back up, and initiate the instruction I had given her.  Only four seconds you say?  Well, what if you get 100 e-mails each day that cause you the four-second distraction?  That’s 400 seconds or about 6.5 minutes.  6.5 minutes of activity with no corresponding productivity.  That’s over three work days lost each year!

3.  Sequestering.  Can’t get people to leave you alone?  Then leave them!  Find an empty office or conference room or even go to the library (you know, where those artifacts called books are stored) and create some uninterruptable time for yourself.  Take just one or two things with you to work on, focus on those then head back to the cacophony.  The trick here is to tell No One (except maybe your assistant) where you’re going.

To demonstrate how effective this is, I once had a client go literally to the empty office next door when she really needed to get some work done.  She was only about six feet from her own desk chair, but completely focused!

4.  Use Full Screens.  Having numerous windows open on your monitor is a terrific way to load up and reference things as needed.  However, keep each one at full screen size so you’re not distracted by something on one screen while trying to work on another. 

The biggest offender here is, again, the e-mail inbox screen.  Just minimize it or layer another screen over it until it’s time to batch process your e-mail again.  Similarly, run with tabs on in your browser instead of opening numerous browsers.  It’s quicker to click between the tabs than it is to find the browser you need.

5.  Create a Designated Workspace.  Desks have become storage areas instead of work surfaces.  This is similar to how garages have become storage units instead of places to park cars.  When you have things piled all around you on the desk, your eyes (those buggers!) take in and process everything on the periphery.  This is silently eroding your focus. 

Using the four corners of the desk to define your Designated Workspace, clear everything off it, including the phone and monitor, and put all that elsewhere.  (Note, you can leave some personal items so that your DWS is not devoid of all humanity.)   Into that space goes ONLY the one thing you are working on right now.  When that one thing is finished, move it to another location (see other posts on that issue) and place the next (one) thing into the Designated Workspace.  You’ll find this greatly increases your focus and productivity.

At the Risk of Repeating Myself

Ferreting out and eliminating the productivity saboteurs is at the core of my work.  I become evangelical when I get on message about how increasing your productivity drives a sense of accomplishment and success.  Moreover, I tend to repeat the same 10 to 15 suggestions to my audiences, but that’s for two reasons.  First, they work and until everyone in the room has at least tried them all, I won’t stop preaching.  Second, I am routinely reminded that people come to understand the significance of productivity and its results in their own time; thus, it’s my job to be repeating the gospel in the hopes that our paths cross at the right time.

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