Each time you are distracted, it takes twice as long to hunker down again and reach the same level of concentration as before until…lo and behold…you’re distracted and the whole process starts again. Before you know it, it’s time to leave the office and you have to move the important piece of work you vowed to finish today to a slot in tomorrow’s diary or the day after’s.
Most people’s procrastination or a propensity to distraction stems from one of two things; a fear of how difficult the piece of work or task they are avoiding is going to be, or out of boredom or a loss of concentration. It has been said for years that we should ideally take a break every thirty minutes to stretch our legs, get some fresh air, make a cup of tea, etc. How many times have you put something off only to realise halfway through it that getting started was acutely the hardest part and the work itself isn’t really as daunting as it first appeared when you were doing everything but it? At least once you get started on something you can identify weak areas or those you need help with and seek out the best colleagues or resources to help you complete the job.
Living as we do in such a hi-tech age, competition increasingly comes not from other businesses but smartphones, email alerts, reminders, instant messages, social media likes, tweets and follows all jostling for our attention. If this wasn’t enough, more established culprits are evermore still at play, be it the housework, the dog, callers and the like if you work from home, and colleagues, phone calls, etc. if you are office-based.
All of these things, besides making your working day unproductive, all have something else pivotal in common. So what is it? The answer: you! You are the cause of the majority of your distractions because you are in control of how, when and where you respond to and engage with them. Let’s take a look at some of the thieves of time in more detail.
1. Emails & the Internet
Email: contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to maintain a non-stop connection to your email account. Last time I checked, email was not the same as MS Instant Messenger or Facebook so why treat it as such? In the last decade, email seems to have replaced the telephone as a tool of immediacy. One suggestion for combatting this whilst simultaneously managing expectations is to set an autoresponder saying that whilst you have received the email you may not respond immediately but will do so by the end of the working day, or something along those lines. It’s also a great idea to schedule times of day to check your email or set it to download new messages at set times of day.
Having said that, the disadvantages of your email/calendar program are the flipsides of their advantages. Use them as time management and priority tools; automate tasks and reminders, etc. to improve your workplace productivity.
Internet: Whilst it may seem productive or clever to have five or ten windows open on your browser at once, perhaps in readiness for the next piece of work you will be working on or simply to remind you to check your bank balance, do the week’s food shopping online or whatever, it’s an anathema to productivity and I am as guilty of this as the next person! Instead, make more use of your electronic diary; schedule in ‘me’ time and get all of these tasks done in one block, not in between thinking of things to write in an email to the boss or putting a proposal together for a prospective client.
Perhaps you need to know every opinion ever voiced in every which way before you start your work? Or you haven’t written enough so have to browse a further five websites for additional facts or points. chances are, you end up overwhelmed and demotivated by ten different opinions on the same topic, few of which are substantiated so that you end up more confused than when you started and the task seems even more unsurmountable than before you started it. Pinpoint key resources and stick to them.
2. Mobiles & Landline Phones
You CAN risk letting a caller go straight to voicemail and you CAN turn your phone off or divert it to voicemail if you’re busy. You do not need to keep your phone on at all times. Directors and business executives have had devices in place to field calls since time immemorial – they’re called secretaries and PAs!
Again, put a temporary voicemail in place to manage expectations, saying that you are in the office but busy working on an important project and will call back or email by the end of the working day.
3. TV & Radio
Some people can maintain and sustain a deep level of concentration with the radio or even the TV on in the background while others are hyper sensitive and find themselves tuning out from their work at the slightest prompt. Which one are you? If it’s the latter then it may be worth foregoing tuning into your favourite TV or Radio programmes while you’re working on meaty tasks or project and rewarding yourself with the pleasantries of this background noise once you have completed them and don’t need to concentrate quite as much. Even if you’re lucky enough to fall into the former camp, it may be a worthwhile exercise if you do feel you’re putting paid to your productivity and haven’t pinpointed why.
4. Family & Friends
Your time is a free for all – husband, wife, children all have questions they urgently need answers to which can’t wait until lunchtime or the end of the working day. Sound familiar? chances are, if you were out at the office they would either wait until you got home to ask such questions or they wouldn’t deem them important enough to warrant calling you up at the office when you’re busy. So set boundaries.
5. Working Environment
If you’re hungry, hot, cold, tired or just darned uncomfortable, it’s the ultimate incentive for getting your work done quicker so you can skedaddle, right? WRONG. Contrary to popular belief, being too comfortable while you’re working will not send you to sleep, rather it will draw attention away from your physicality or physical environment and if you look after your body, your brain will be happy too.
You know what they say? Writers have the cleanest houses. Housekeeping if you work from home or of your desk if you are office-based is also very effective distraction device. If a coffee stain or a little dust stops your productivity in its tracks, then do the housework or clean your office workspace immediately. If your files suddenly appear disorganised and hard to locate information from, better to spend an hour before you get embroiled than to take regular stops to stare at and be irritated by an unclean or untidy desk.
Whatever the culprit behind your propensity to distraction or procrastination, remember that whilst these devices are the causes of your distraction, you are the master of ceremonies. And, whilst it’s true that each of us is affected by different factors in different ways, next time you start to wonder why you haven’t finished a piece of work and where the time has gone. Start your ‘Distraction Diary’ and write down every time you deviate from the piece of work or project you are working on and note how long for. You will soon start to see how procrastination is the ultimate thief of time and begin to put paid to the distractions which affect your workplace productivity.
Katherine Hanson is an experienced writer of persuasive copy, editor, researcher and English & Journalism graduate who has written feature articles for a variety of publications. She helps clients to communicate effectively through copywriting, website content, articles, blogging and social media. Katherine is Managing Director of Kreative Katherine Ltd.