Removing Distractions


Graff at Newtown, Sydney Sept 2007

Some people can suffer distractions more than others, where as others can be total immune from the usual distractions.

Ever had a morning where you seem to be not getting any thing done. You check email, forums, feeds and twitter (the Loop). The phone rings, then you answer some new email. IM fires up, you deal with that. The doorbell rings a courier turns up and the distractions just go on and on. Sure you are scheduling tasks, and getting on with the short ones, but still it feels like you are spinning your wheels. You seem to have all your task management working just fine. So what is the problem? Maybe its all the minor distractions just getting to you.

So can we bring order to the distracting chaos of our lives.

Most of these work based distractions are of our own making; from the false premise that we can in fact multi-task . Truth be know we don’t really multi-task, just rapidly shift between like projects with short linear bouts of concentration.

For the most part getting your focus back can be difficult for some. So here is a handy list:

  • Close all non essential applications

    Such as twitter clients, email client, RSS reader, Forum (tabs) on your browser, yes that includes Facebook. This will effectively remove the loop. Also ensure you don’t have shortcuts to these applications or web sites within easy reach. Make it a chore to find them in the menu system. This way you can catch yourself when you go to check them.

  • Set Rewards

    Give yourself a mini review when you complete a long task or several hours. You could use checking the loop as a reward.

  • Delegate

    If you can delegate or use an answering service for all incoming cold phone calls do so.

  • Process Mail first

    Don’t start all those some jobs until you have processed the bulk of your incoming email. Export the mail items or print them out whatever, just ensure you turn email off.

  • Music

    Get the music cranking, I find the faster beats with a reasonable bpm is good for giving focus. For design work I can listen to anything, But for coding or general writing I need to have instrumental music, basically anything without vocals.

  • Clear the desk

    Remove any distracting clutter (I’m one to talk). Allow yourself to focus only at the task a hand.

  • Close the Door

    If you can close the door and make it known you are not to be disturbed.

Well that’s it, you are bound to have a few more?

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  1. I would have thought that it was better to turn off music altogether?

  2. @KatB – the opposite for me, the silence can just eat at me, I have to have music around me to almost carry me forward.

  3. I also set myself a time limit, like one hour or so. Only at the end of that time will I allow myself to check email and such forth.

    I don’t do this by setting an alarm clock or anything like that. No setting the email check schedule for 60 minutes. The reason why is that if I’m right in the flow at the 59 minute mark then I do want to keep on going until I realise the time has passed.

    One easy way I do this is to set up a special playlist which only has 60 minutes of music in it. When the music stops, maybe I’ll notice, but if the music is still going then I keep going .. and I can put off the temptation to check email etc because I know the music will stop eventually.

    It’s also a good chance for a bio break – stretch, walk around, grab a snack, vent the spleen, whatever.

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