“You can always find a distraction if you’re looking for one.” Tom Kite
Many of us are faced with the need to juggle a variety of different tasks and responsibilities at work. At the same time, we are bombarded with interruptions and distractions. Some of those distractions are self-imposed. Others are caused by external factors.
Here are nine suggestions to help you stay on task. Life is unpredictable, so there will definitely be times when some of these are simply unworkable for you. However, I guarantee that your work life will be less stressful and your work products will be of higher quality if you do your best to follow these suggestions.
1. Make a list at the same time every day. Then prioritize the items on your list. This is a well-known time management tip. However, few of us make daily to-do lists and even fewer actually prioritize what is on the list. It is human nature to want to take care of the easier and generally less important tasks that require less time for completion. You will be less likely to fall prey to that temptation if your most important tasks are clearly identified.
2. Pay attention to the ways that you distract yourself from the work at hand. Then stop doing them! Some of us have an insatiable curiosity to find out what is going on in the world in general or in our small corner. We read the paper, scan our messages, check the news on the internet- and then click the links that call our name. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish if you minimize or eliminate those time-consuming habits.
3. Start on your priority task the minute you sit down at your desk. Don’t check the weather or the news (unless that is part of your job). Don’t check your messages. Don’t linger over coffee chatting with coworkers. Just get on with what you need to do. To borrow Nike’s phrase, “Just do it!”
4. Turn off your email and your phone. Those constant pings reporting email and text messages provide an ongoing distraction, particularly if we are unconsciously looking for a reason to delay or stop what we are doing. It is too easy to “take a second” to check the new message and then get quickly sidetracked. Instead, set specific times (and a specific amount of time) to check your messages.
5. Don’t try to do two things at once. It has been shown that people who “multi-task” tend to give short shrift to both tasks. As far as possible, stay with a task until it is done. Avoid the “rabbit habit,” jumping from one project to the next without seeing anything through to completion.
6. Write a note to yourself. If you are pulled away from a task, note down what you were doing and what you have yet to accomplish. This way, you will be able to regain your original focus. If you don’t leave yourself a note, it may take a while for you to remember that you were even working on that specific task. Even if you remember the task, you may not remember the insight you planned to explore or discuss.
7. Determine when you are most alert and most capable. Then block off that time for your most challenging projects. If you are most alert the first thing in the morning, that is not the time to read your email or schedule a staff meeting. Otherwise, when you try to accomplish that challenging project at a time when you are not as alert, the project will take twice as long to accomplish.
8. Establish the time block when you do not want to be disturbed, other than for specific and well-defined situations. Tell your staff and co-workers. Turn off your phone. Close your door, if you have one. As long as people know when you will be available, they will conform to your schedule in most cases.
9. Continually ask yourself: “What is the best use of my time right now?” Time management guru Alan Lakein suggested that question as a way to check in with yourself, to see how much mental and physical energy you have at that moment. This enables you to make a conscious choice about what you do. Sometimes, the best use of your time may be to get away from a situation and take a short walk so that you can refresh your brain and think more objectively about your options.
Try out some of these, if you aren’t already using them. Let me know if they help.
May your learning be sweet.