We live in a world designed to distract us.
Everyone wants your eyes focused on their content. And they will do anything to get your attention. We have ads popping up in games, we have to watch ads before our favorite YouTube videos, and we have the media sharing “Breaking News” every five minutes.
Every little thing your apps and services do — push notifications to your locked phone, auto-playing YouTube videos, or the little delay between when you open Twitter and when you see if you have any new notifications — is a bid for your attention and engagement. Tech and media companies are engaged in a constant game of one-upmanship to convince you to spend more time with them and not the others.
If your productivity has taken a nosedive, here’re a few ideas that may help reclaim your power over distractions and interruptions.
Reclaim Your Focus
Step one is reclaiming your focus – by any means necessary.
Start by identifying what distracts you. Turn off all notifications if you work on a computer. Turn off your phone and limit all outside distractions if you’re away from a desk. Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign or set up an “Out of the Office” automatic reply on your email. The idea is to physically stop as many distractions as possible.
And if all that doesn’t work, Popular Science recommends a Scorch the Earth approach for anyone that’s overusing social media (probably the entire planet) and says:
Turn off your phone, put it in a box, wrap that box in duct tape, and put the bundle in another, larger box. The longer it will take you to access your device, the more likely you are to stop halfway through unwrapping that tape and remember why you’re avoiding social media in the first place.
Sure, it’s drastic. But when your work is suffering because you’re distracted and unfocused, you have to take drastic measures. No one is going to do this for you (unless you get fired and you no longer have work to do!), so take the steps you need to reduce every distraction possible and create uninterrupted time during your workday.
Make One Organizational Plan Work
How many organizational plans are on the market? How many planners, apps, and processes all claim to be the one system that will finally get you organized? And they are all right.
Unless you don’t put in the effort to make it work.
The problem is that we are overloaded on organizational plans. From the 4-Hour Work Week to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, there are plenty of great organizational products on the market with new ones coming all the time. The problem is choosing one, instead of jumping from the latest must have every few months.
Do some research and find the one system that works for you. If you prefer to write in a physical journal, try the Bullet Journal that’s described as the “analog system for the digital age”. If you’re part of a team, try Google’s integrated calendar for teams. There are plenty of options out there. Just pick the one that works best and put in the time to make it work for you.
Track Your Time
Do you know how much time you spend on each project? Do you know how much time you actually waste every day? Or is it easier to deny spending 50 minutes a day watching cute cat videos than doing your work?
That’s where RescueTime comes in. It analyzes how you spend your time each day, so you understand in black and white where you’re going off-track. You can also use a tool like WorkflowMax that gives you lots of options for keeping track of your time, including:
Set a timer
Track start and finish time
Or add the duration of a project
This is especially helpful if you’re billing by the hour and need to keep accurate records so you get paid the right amount. The idea goes far beyond the old “money is time” concept and uses time tracking to increase productivity.
Don’t Forget that Productivity Takes Effort and Planning
It’s extremely hard to be productive without making a plan and putting in the effort needed to make your plan work. It’s almost impossible to wing it.
We live in a distracted world where people literally walk into traffic because they’re too focused on their phones. Where technology is designed to maximize your engagement with their product, not your work. And that’s probably going to get worse and not better.
Be honest with yourself. No one wants to highlight their flawed focus and admit to poor productivity. Yet, that’s the only way to stop making the same mistakes over and over again. Bite the bullet and take the time to create a plan to improve your productivity, even if that means making some hard choices.
It will be worth it in the long run.