Imagine this . . .
You wake up in the morning with four big things you want to accomplish for the day. You hop out of bed, grab your coffee, and hit the ground running.
You feel energized and your mind is clear. You begin the first task and complete it in record time. You’re proud of your work. You accomplished what you set out to accomplish. So you start on task number two with the same focus and engagement. Same for tasks three and four. No distractions, no interruptions.
You breath a big sigh of relief. You’ve done what you set out to do for the day. You’re ahead of the game and have the rest of the day to do as you choose. Maybe you work on another project. Maybe you plan what you do tomorrow. You’re surprised how much energy and focus you have left.
Now imagine this . . .
You wake up in the morning with a sense of dread and mild anxiety. You have four big things you want to accomplish for the day. You hop out of bed, grab your coffee, and turn on the morning news. You stop to listen to a news story about a wreck on the interstate.
You get in your car trying to figure out alternate routes to work, and your cell phone starts ringing. It’s a friend calling to talk about your weekend plans. As you chat, you miss the exit to bypass the wreck and sit in traffic for an hour. You get off the call and while sitting in traffic check the emails dinging on your phone.
You get to the office 45 minutes late, and one of your co-workers pops in to invite you to a meeting that starts in 30 minutes. You probably should go, even though it’s about a project happening next quarter. You start to work on task number one, but as you work, email notices keep popping up on your computer screen, and you’re compelled to check them.
By the end of the day, you finally finish task number one. You feel frustrated and overwhelmed, and you just want to go have a beer and veg out in front of the TV when you get home.
So which scenario is more like you? Is it the second? Life is full of distractions — cell phone distractions, driving distractions, computer distractions. There’s so much information, noise, and disruption coming at us at any given time that it’s a wonder we can accomplish anything at all.
We have more information in our faces in a given day than our parents had in a year. It’s creating a generation of people who can’t seem to focus or stay on task.
If you want to increase your productivity, energy, and focus, the very first place to start is with all of the distractions in your life.
Here are ten ways to minimize distractions so you can maximize your efficiency:
1. Plan ahead
We are barely out of bed before the interruptions and distractions throw us off track. Once the work day begins, we’re just trying to handle what’s thrown at us rather than proactively managing our schedule and time.
Before you go to bed each night, write down three or four things you want to accomplish for the following day. If they are big things, cut it back to one or two.
Write down everything that needs to be done and assign an estimated amount of time for completing the work. Then pad the time by 15-30 minutes. Prepare any materials or tools you’ll need for your work.
If you drive to work, check the weather for the following day and plan your drive time accordingly.
2. Wake up earlier and eat healthy
Waking up just 30 minutes earlier will give you a cushion of time so you don’t feel rushed and anxious. Use this time to review your plans for the day and to eat a healthy breakfast so your energy remains high throughout the morning.
A 2012 study published in Population Health Management found employees with an unhealthy diet were 66 percent more likely to experience productivity loss than those who regularly ate whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
A great energy boosting breakfast includes a combination of fiber, proteins and healthy carbohydrates. Try oatmeal topped with berries, raisins, and walnuts, along with a hard-boiled egg or peanut butter on whole grain toast.
3. Silence your phone when driving
Driving distractions can be deadly. The National Safety Council estimates that 1.6 million crashes each year involve drivers using cell phones and texting. It might seem more productive to get those calls made and emails handled while you’re in the car, but the risk is overwhelming — not only for yourself but also for the other drivers around you.
You can’t truly focus on your driving or your call while trying to do both at the same time. Put your phone down, and use it for emergencies only. Whatever you need to say or do with your phone can wait until you get where you’re going.
Use this time to center yourself and mentally prepare for your day. Listen to some music without lyrics, like jazz or classical, which has been shown to increase concentration and productivity.
4. Schedule email checks
Rather than randomly checking your email throughout the day, use email checks as a reward for completing a task. Or schedule a time during the day when you have 15-20 minutes during which you read and respond to emails.
Shut down your email at other times, and be sure to deactivate any email pop-up reminders or dings that can distract you while you work.
5. Clear your space
Before you begin your first task for the day, be sure your work space is free of clutter and other distractions. Shut down all other browsers on your computer aside from the one you are working on.
If you have a window in your office where you can see activity outside, either turn your back to the window or close the blinds. Shut your office door, and remove any possible cell phone distractions. Turn the phone off or silence it while you work. In fact, put it out of sight.
Tell your co-workers that you will be working heads down for two hours (or whatever amount of time you determine). Ask them to save any questions or interruptions until you are finished. Put a note on your door asking not to be disturbed.
7. Keep refreshments handy
Hunger and thirst can be major distractions while you work. Have plenty of water and healthy snacks (like fruit, cheese, peanut butter, or a healthy snack bar) near your work space so you can stay hydrated and energized. A 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition found that mild dehydration (so subtle that you don’t really feel it) can lead to inattention.
8. Set a timer
Set a timer on your phone or computer for a specific amount of time you want to work on your task. Define exactly what you want to accomplish in that amount of time, and don’t allow yourself to go off task until the timer dings.
You may not be able to exactly match the timer to the task, but knowing you’re under the clock will help keep you engaged in the task at had. This is a very grounding action for your workload and helps you manage your day.
9. Move your body
If your work requires you to sit for long periods, every hour or so be sure you stand up and stretch, move around, do a few push-ups or jumping jacks to get your blood flowing. Moving muscles pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and trigger the release of all sorts of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals. When we are sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function and focus.
10. Use the rubber band trick
If you find your mind wandering on your worries, other people, or anything that pulls your attention away from your work, you need to corral your thoughts and set your mind back on your work. A great way to disengage from distracting thoughts is by using the rubber band trick.
Put a rubber band on your wrist before you begin working. When you notice your mind wandering, gently pop the rubber band as a pattern interrupt, and think or say out loud, “Back to work.” If your wandering thoughts were important, write them down so you can deal with them later.
Distractions are everywhere, and if you’re determined to be productive and highly focused in your life and work, you must proactively manage those distractions. Make a plan in advance for dealing with all of the possible interruptions in your life and for keeping yourself energized, motivated, and alert.
As mega-coach Tony Robbins reminds, “Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” Ignite your own capacity for achievement and success by removing those insidious distractions that steal your time, energy, and concentration.
How do you deal with distractions in your work or life? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.
Photo: NBC National News