As a parent of 4 and 6 year olds, I am constantly amazed by how little it takes to distract them from the current task at hand. A bird chirp, a wandering doodlebug or the sight of a bag of Doritos is enough to totally derail them from their current objective (particularly, it seems, if that objective was designated by me or my wife).
This got me thinking: Are we – the grownups – really that different? Especially those of us who work in digital marketing? I say “no”. And if you disagree with me, you are wrong. Just kidding – but not really.
From the tirade of emails on our laptops, to the constant buzzing of instant messages on our phones, to our lively, open office spaces, to our constantly shifting projects and priorities, to the countless meetings being dropped onto our calendars… there are a lot of distractions. It’s like a thousand bags of Doritos – all different, enticing flavors – coming at us at once. And just like my 4 year old son, we get distracted.
And what’s the biggest killer of productivity in any workplace? Distractions and lack of focus.
So – what to do? We need to be constantly connected to do our jobs. Email is a must; instant messenger keeps us close to our colleagues in different offices, states and countries; open office spaces are amazing for collaboration and fostering culture; projects and priorities will, and should, always shift based on the ever-changing nature of our space; and (most) meetings need to happen to get consensus and plan initiatives.
But we also need time to think, time to focus and time for ourselves, both inside and outside of the office. It’s not productive to be jumping from distraction to distraction in the workplace, and it’s not healthy to be doing the same thing at home.
Below are a few tips and tricks I’m trying out, and have tried in the past, to help control the wealth of distractions coming at me on a daily basis. If you haven’t already, give some of them a shot – they just might save your sanity next time morning comes around…
- Take email breaks – shut off email for 30-60 minutes and get a project knocked out. If something really bad happens, someone else in the office will know about it and tell you.
- Shut off IM or go “invisible” – same principle as above. If the world is on fire, I’m sure you’ll get a call or tap on the shoulder.
- Plan your meetings for the day – before you even open an email in the morning, review your calendar. Remove any meetings you don’t need to attend (we all have them…), push any that should wait, highlight the “must attends”, and identify the free chunks of time you have available to actually get work done. Knowing this before you dive into the day gets you off on the right foot and can proactively cut out distractions. If you need to, block off chunks of “work time” on your calendar so meetings can be dropped into that spot.
- Find a quiet spot – I love open office spaces, but at times they are a major distraction. Especially if you need to focus and get something done. I find it helpful to go to an open conference room, phone booth or simply find a quiet spot in the corner when I need to get something knocked out free of distractions.
- Prioritize by impact, not by decibels – your priorities can (and will) shift by week, day, even hour. However, the key is to ensure you are always prioritizing based on what is highest impact or benefit – not by who is shouting the loudest. If you follow the noise, your productivity will go down the drain – especially when there’s as much noise as there is today in the digital and tech worlds.
- Keep the balance at home – for most of us, it’s inevitable that our work distractions will spill over into our home lives. Keeping touch with client emails, ensure colleagues can reach us with high priority items via text or IM, and generally being “available” are all realities of the modern day workplace – not just in digital but in countless other industries, too. Although necessary, these distractions must be controlled – not just for your sanity, but for the general health of your home dynamic.
This is just a handful of ideas and techniques from my own experiences, and hopefully they will be helpfulfor you to try out (or “re-try” out) to help control the many work-related distractions in our lives. That way you can focus on that bag of Doritos over there. No, not there – there. See it? Mmmmmmm… Cool Ranch…