THE BLOG
05/14/2013 05:24 pm ET | Updated Jul 14, 2013

The Productivity Wars: Beating Distraction

In a recent survey that I conducted among solopreneurs and small business owners, the following two statements were most frequently cited as the cause of poor productivity:

"I'm always reacting to things - I can't seem to create or stick to a plan."

"I can't get any real work done because I'm caught up in email or social media."

For both statements above, one could substitute the sentence:

"I'm easily/frequently distracted and am frustrated by my lack of progress because of it."

Does this describe you? If so, keep reading. I have a five-step system that will help you break through this pattern and skyrocket your productivity!

There are many reasons that we can be distracted -- we are information/communication "junkies" and can't resist the temptation to receive and process the latest message or news byte that comes our way, we aren't well organized, we're tired and don't have the "bandwidth" to keep our attention trained on what we need to do...

Distractions are the nemesis of focus, and focus is what we need to consistently and effectively complete tasks and projects so that we can achieve our goals. Think of focus like a muscle -- if we don't use it, it withers away!

We need to prepare the mind for focusing, just as we need to prepare the body for physical exercise. Here's how:

  1. Consult your plan (a.k.a. your to-do list) for the day. The knowledge that you have already given consideration to what is important on this day is reassuring. It will give you a feeling of control and will help you to relax prior to tackling the task at hand.
  2. Reduce/eliminate environmental distractions. Clear your desk of all materials not related to the task that you need to accomplish, even if this means sliding irrelevant items into a drawer. Then place everything that you need for your task on your desk or nearby. Turn off your e-mail notification and your Internet access (assuming you do not need them to work on your task). Close your window blinds or shades if movement outside might divert your attention. Consider wearing headphones or earplugs if your surroundings are noisy.
  3. Limit interruptions by unwitting persons. For solopreneurs, this means setting boundaries for those in your household. Let your family know which times are "off limits" and explain why. You may wish to post a sign outside your workspace to remind them that unless the matter is urgent, you are not to be disturbed. Turn the ringer for your phone off (don't forget your cell phone), have your calls forwarded, or direct your calls immediately to voice mail. Get someone else to walk the dog during this time. If you are a small business owner, consider establishing "office hours" so that your partners or employees are aware of your limited availability during specified times.
  4. With your physical environment under control, slow down and use The Golden Minute™* to center yourself.
  5. Perform a quick self-assessment of your physical and mental state prior to beginning the task. Are you anxious about something? Try deep breathing and creative visualization for a few minutes to clear your mind. Or write down the cause of your anxiety, then ball up the paper that you wrote it on and throw it away. Are you tired from not getting enough sleep the night before? Stand up and do a few stretches, then move around the office to get your blood circulating. Are you hungry because you missed breakfast or lunch? Eat a wholesome snack -- one that will not cause a sudden peak and trough in your blood glucose level.

Follow this routine every time you need to concentrate on a specific activity in your business. It should take you no more than 10 minutes at first and no more than 5 minutes with practice.

Then get to work!

*The Golden Minute™ will show you just how malleable time is and the power that you have in how you use it. This exercise will help you build your "focus muscle" quickly and easily, beginning with just one minute a day. While not critical to the 5-step plan outlined above, it is an essential part of a developing a deep understanding of how you use your time to achieve the success that you seek in business and every other aspect of your life! For more information, send a message to info@understandingtimemanagement.com.

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