“What did we do at work before email?” I sarcastically added.
He smiled, but didn’t look up.
I remember working before email was a thing. Granted I wasn’t in a professional position as I am now, but I still remember seeing my manager’s office. The office had no computers, only paper.
Now, of course, it’s much different. There are seemingly infinite distractions that can keep you from creating your best work, especially from the computer.
The fact of the matter is that many of us have moved from the proactive, creative work to reactionary work. The move is a result of our attention being divided up by seemingly infinite distractions.
You can probably feel that this is true.
Email floods our inboxes. Facebook is a click away. A text comes in. A meeting is called. The phone rings. Someone drops by your desk.
There are infinite grabs at our attention.
To be sure, some distractions are helpful. For instance, you might be waiting on an email response to move forward with a project you are working on.
I get it.
What I am referring to is a ratio.
How many of the incoming emails really help your work versus just occupy space in your inbox (and your mind)?
How many of the meetings you attend really help you get your work done?
How many of the work station drop-ins add value to your work?
So, instead of telling you four obvious ways to eliminate these unhelpful distractions, I propose four unconventional ways to achieve the same thing.
If you are tired of constant distractions limiting your output, and if you are serious about moving from reactionary work to creative work that makes a difference, then consider the following ideas.
1. Establish a Consistent Quiet Time
During the work week I get up just before 5 a.m. From about 5:30 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. is my quiet time. This is my uninterrupted time to read, write, and think.
Quiet time is a block of distraction-free time used for any work that requires concentration or thought.
I use these blocks of time for forward thinking. It is also the best time for producing creative work.
I have found that creative work often requires stretches of distraction-free time. I need time to think down into a subject to generate the mental connections between threads of thought. I need time to read, and time to reflect on what I have already read.
Quiet time is the answer, but the trick is that it must be consistent.
I go for two hours, but if two hours is too long, then try an hour and a half, or an hour.
An hour is the least amount of time you should shoot for.
Make it a part of your daily routine. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, evening, or late at night. What matters is that you make the time available, and you do it consistently.
2. Limit Uninspiring Work
The lure of unhelpful distraction, whether it is self-imposed or originates from others, is at its most potent when you are in the midst of uninspiring work.
I have been fighting this problem recently. At the end of the calendar year employee evaluations are due. I hate doing these evaluations.
I have been working on them intermittently for weeks. Every time my email notifier beeps, I’m on it. I noticed that checking Facebook starts happening a little too frequently as a “break” from doing those evaluations.
While completely eliminating uninspiring work will never happen, we can reduce the amount of uninspiring work that crosses our desk.
The mantra is this: not everything deserves action.
Mentally list the uninspiring work you have done in the past. Can any of it be ignored? Can you delegate some it out to others? Can you change the work processes to eliminate that work altogether?
The goal should be more time on the creative work you are being paid for, and less time on the filler work that no one really cares about.
3. Get Enough Rest
“What?” I hear you asking.
“How is that going to help me avoid distractions?”
Unhelpful distractions are often small and easy. Checking email is easy. Checking Twitter is easy. Watching the news on TV to get caught up is a snap.
On the other hand, creating that sales presentation is hard.
When you are really tired distractions offer us a way to rest. We tell ourselves that getting to inbox zero is important, so we spend the afternoon deleting newsletters and responding to low priority mail.
Being overly tired helps the distractions grow like ivy over our plans for the day.
Go to sleep at night. Get seven hours consistently.
4. Break Up the Big
This one follows the same theme as the last one. Distractions are typically simple stuff, and simple stuff is easier to get lost in.
The best solutions for getting started on anything big is to break it up into the small.
And, do it quickly.
This is a hard one for me.
We have all had that project handed to us that we just know is going to be an absolute monster. We can project the mental output required to get it done, and it feels exhausting.
So, what do we do?
We take a peek at Instagram to see what’s going on. We take a moment to browse Google News.
We avoid it. Even if just for a little while.
The problem is that the longer we avoid it, the more heads the monster sprouts. At least that is how we perceive it in our mind’s eye.
Soon that project can be even more overwhelming than it was initially.
Better to start breaking up that big project into smaller pieces right away before the additional heads start growing.
Take a few minutes to think through that big thing. What are its component parts? What will be the real effort required? Write it down.
Then start working on the easiest of those component parts first. The idea is that when you get the momentum rolling with a few quick wins, you will be better poised to tackle the hard thing next.
The End of Unhelpful Distractions?
Distractions of all flavors are a part of life. There will never be any fewer than there are today.
The goal is to manage them effectively so they don’t manage you.
Actively managing those distractions will yield big results over time.
Imagine yourself fully rested and working on small pieces of a large, inspiring project in an uninterrupted block of time.
Imagine how much horsepower your creative engine could produce in this environment!
Question: How do you avoid the unhelpful distractions that interfere with your best work?
|Written on 1/4/2014 by Jonathan Wilson. Jonathan Wilson is a Seattle area writer and creator of The Red Cabbage. TRC provides inspiration, unique insights, and rock-solid strategies for 30-somethings looking to accelerate in business and life. Join our engaged community and receive my free web series and e-workbook, 7 Questions to Uncovering Your Purpose. We don’t have a minute to waste. See you on the blog.|
Photo Credit: tim_d