How To Regain Control When Distractions Are Eating Your Time

distractions, interruptionsI made my “To Do List” (for today) last night. The list was clear and prioritized. When I woke up this morning, I promised myself that I will “somehow” complete the “MUST DOs”. It’s almost dinner time… I can’t believe I have only finished one task.

How many times have you awoken in the morning, resolved to put in a full day of work, and then marveled at how little work actually got done? (If you're like me, the answer is "too many times!")

Looking back at my day, I realize that motivation or the “To Do” List itself was not the problem. As much as I hate to admit it, distractions/interruptions were the main contributory factor.

Avoidable distractions Vs “Allowable” distractions

We get distractions because we allow ourselves to be distracted. Surely, there is a clear distinction between distractions that are unavoidable and those we should allow. A sick child, a crisis situation at work etc. are distraction that we should allow. More often than not, it’s not these types of distraction that eat off time!

This post is a recap of the most common “avoidable” distractions we face in our day to day life.

1. Physical distractions

Feeling Hungry
This is the most common distraction for me! Often, when I am in the middle of a task I feel like “I need to have something to eat”! This results in poor concentration as well.
So I make it a point to grab something before I engage in a task. As a precautionary measure I keep some snacks on my desk. The same could be said about keeping yourself hydrated. Instead of going to the water cooler with your glass every hour, try filling up a water bottle at the start of the day.

Feeling Sleepy
It is hard to focus when you are sleepy or stressful due to lack of sleep. It is recommended that you sleep for 6-8 daily. However, occasionally there might be days where where sleep becomes a luxury. If so, you might find 7 Ways To Revive Your Tired Body And Stay Energized After A Sleep Deprived Night useful.

Not well
If you are sick, you should get some rest and seek necessary medical assistance.

2. Mental distractions

Your own mind distracting you!., another “popular” time drainer.

You remember something that you were “supposed” to do.
Write it down and ignore it for now.

Boring Task
When you’re doing something you enjoy, time goes by quickly and you get it done. When faced with a boring task, there are ways to make those tasks bearable and a little more interesting.

You are caught in an emotionally draining dilemma, fueled by worry and fear.
I have been in this situation many times and I can tell you that there is no “quick fix” for this one!
Getting through these types of distractions require some “action” on our part, to “tackle” the dilemma.

3. Environmental distractions

Family interruptions
If you are working on something from home, this is very likely to happen. For various reasons, a family member may approach you when you are engaged in some work. I generally feel bad to tell them “go away”, so I am a victim of these interruptions regularly.
I have found that telling them, “Please don’t disturb me until ..” works. (to a certain extent!) I also try to schedule my work around the “family itinerary”, so I am interrupted less. The other option is to leave the house (don’t know how practical it is though)!.

The price of staying “connected”
Telephone, email, AIM, twitter, facebook etc …This one is arguable. I know that some people manage to work around these, while others find this to be a major distraction. I fall into the later. I do my best to get “offline” when I want to concentrate fully. (Yes, as I write this post I am offline!)

“Workspace” distractions
Do you sit close to a window with a “nice” view of the “outside” world? How is the desk organized? Do you have sufficient space?
Surrounded too much noise? Consider listening to your iPod or any other music player. (Some people would find music distracting as well!)

Chances are, you're your own worst enemy when it comes to distraction. What steps do you normally take to minimize distractions and stay focused?

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Sunny Jamiel said...


Glad to discover your blog.

I try to use the 50/30/20 formula. 50% time on long term highly productive tasks. 30% on short term beneficial tasks and 20% ...... well as you pointed out — for distractions. :)

Mark said...

This is a very good list. The key to eliminating distractions is understanding what they are. One of my distractions is doing too many tasks at once, hopping back and forth from different tasks.

Astrid Lee, Reiki Master Teacher said...

I remember the URGENT VS IMPORTANT matrix I learned in grad school. It's very useful at times to plot your issues/tasks on this chart (scale 1-5 for each dimension).

It offers a visual overview, of which tasks/issues to address first (important and urgent) and which ones next (important and non-urgent), and which ones which seem pressing (urgent/non-important ones) that don't need any attention what so ever.

This chart can offer such incredible revelations!

Jen said...

Excellent summary of pretty much everything that is distracting me. Working from home is the toughest - it is the one thing that I cannot get under control and which is eating up about half of my most productive daytime hours, which means I end up working through the night.
Glad to see that I'm not the only one with this problem, gives me hope that I will be able to manage this eventually.

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