Being Productive While Also Being Easily-Distracted: My Approach

Being Productive When You're Easily Distracted

Working from home full-time is a privilege I am glad to have. Since I’m easily distracted and doing deliverable-based work, being able to control my environment is a gift… but it’s not a gift that I can maintain if I’m not productive.

As much as when working anywhere else, I must be productive if I expect to continue working from home. Same goes for you, too.

I’ve been easily distracted for as a long as I can remember. My mind is constantly looking for ways to get off-task. As a kid, I wanted and intended to do homework but struggled to remain focused.

This is why I don’t get lost in the details- I just lose them completely.

It took me most of my adult life, but I finally figured out an approach that allows me to be productive. If you’re like me – distracted by shiny things, Reddit posts, SMS notifications, and anything that blinks or beeps – you might find some value in giving this approach a go.

I’ve learned two things that empower me to be productive: controlling my environment, and the “give it a minute” approach.

However Possible, Build Some Control Into Your Environment & Workflow

This is a big one for me and it’s why I work from home. If you don’t or can’t work from home (I get it), you should still put some control into your environment and workflow. Even if it’s just a tiny amount, every little bit helps.

E-Mail & Instant Messaging

Stop checking your e-mail continuously throughout the day 

Being accessible, especially if you’re a remote worker, is important. However, if you’re going to spend 5 minutes browsing your e-mails every time you get a notification, you’re going to get nothing done.

I check my e-mails four times throughout the day: first thing in the morning, right before lunch, right after lunch, and just before I finish work. This allows me to place my focus elsewhere but still frequently check in on things and be responsive. I do remain available on instant messenger, so anything that’s urgent will come to me there.

If you get a lot of e-mails, try this.

Speaking of instant messenger: when working on projects, set your status to busy

Connect with your contacts and let them know to e-mail you unless it’s urgent. I’ve found that most of my colleagues are fine with this and it lets me remain focused.

Phone & Notifications

When I’m in crunch mode, I’ve found it helpful to modify my notifications. I leave the notifications for phone calls on, but text messages, instant messages, and basically everything else are set to silent.

I don’t know how people do it (not check their phone every time it pings), but for me, every notification is an excuse to do something else. So, I just shut them out completely.

Honestly, after getting over the initial round of “how will anyone ever reach me” anxiety, it’s really quite nice. During work hours, anything that’s urgent will come in the form of a phone call or an instant message (which I receive on my PC), so turning off SMS/etc. makes my space less distracting without really sacrificing anything.

If you can, try it this- it really has helped me stay on task.

Conversations

A five-minute conversation every 15 minutes equates to a third of your productive time. In a busy office, I find it quite easy to fall into this habit and frequency.

Don’t get me wrong: connecting and collaborating with people is awesome. I’m not saying it’s a negative thing. Too much of a good thing can be a negative thing though, and my deadlines aren’t going anywhere.

Try and pick when you have conversations. When I learned to say “sorry, unless it’s urgent, I can’t talk right now as I need to get this work done; let’s connect later”, more work actually got done.

Try it. Don’t be abrasive about it, either, but you do have to mean it. More on that down below.

Audible Distractions

I can listen to background music all day long, but as soon as I hear my colleague chatting in the other room, it’s all over. It’s not as if I’m even listening to my colleague’s conversation; I just happen to hear it.

It’s not just colleagues or conversations, either: construction, sirens, birds chirping… you name it. It breaks my concentration, I think about it, and then BAM! I need to spend a few minutes coaxing myself back to work (here’s how).

When I really need to focus, I cut out everything by employing background music loud enough to drown out the noise (but not so loud that it becomes distracting), or I wear noise-cancelling headphones and play white noise.

Resources I found for ambient audio that I don’t find distracting

  • TabletopAudio.com – Created for tabletop RPG games (think Dungeons & Dragons), I like to put it on because I find that after a moment or two, it’s completely drowned out… it and everything else. Choose from your favorite from classics like “Windswept Plains”, “Highway”, and “Lively Cafe”.
  • RainyMood.comI love this site. Load the URL and enjoy listening to the rain fall. Combined with some light background music, it completely drowns out anything other than itself.

I’ve found that these two websites are best enjoyed as a pair.

The Internet Itself

Don’t we all know how easy it is to get lost on the internet? I’m an internet marketer for cryin’ out loud- it’s my job to help you consume content online. Literally my entire objective is to create layouts, media, and copy that gets you to stay on my sites longer while consuming my content.

Ha- so guess what I do a lot of?

This one is tough. If you need to use “nanny software” to block out websites, then do it. I use StayFocusd, a Chrome extension that gives me a time limit for distracting websites. It’s made a huge difference for my productivity.

Having a limit for goofing off time during work hours forces me to prioritize when and why I goof off. 

It’s super effective.

Allllright, Got All That? Now Just Give It a Minute

For the record: I definitely don’t take credit for this method. Somebody way smarter (and more productive) than me thought of this and I came across it on one of my many impromptu “let’s explore Reddit for two hours” events.

Either way, it’s genuine, bonafide gold.

Essentially, it’s just this: sit down and force yourself to just do the thing (whatever the thing is) for at least one minute. One solid minute of… whatever… it is you have to do.

Writing the report. Painting the wall. Cleaning the kitchen. Whatever.

Look, you know you have to write that piece of content, audit that site, create that spreadsheet, write that report…  Point is, you know you have to do it, because if you don’t, things like “mortgage default” and “unemployment insurance” start to become recurring thoughts.

But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find it insanely difficult to just stop and switch what I’m doing when my calendar say’s it’s time. This is especially the case when the thing I have to do isn’t something particularly interesting (see the above examples).

Quite often I find it hard to get motivated to do the thing.

But I don’t need motivation to do the thing, do I?

I need discipline to do the thing and following this method, I only need enough discipline to do the thing for just one minute.

It’s only a minute.

Once You’re Doing the Thing, It’s Way Easier to Just… Keep Doing It

I don’t know why it is, but once I’m doing something it’s not nearly as laborious to keep doing it as it seemed to start doing it.

Once I’m doing it, I employ all the tricks and techniques in my arsenal (like the ones I’ve shared in this post) to make sure I stay doing the thing.

But again, the trick is to get doing it in the first place.

So, when my calendar declares that it’s time to start a new task, with all the willpower I can muster and discipline I possess, I sit down and start doing it.

Just for a minute.

I load the file, open the document, start reading the memo… whatever.

It takes a surprisingly large amount of discipline to start doing a new thing, and that’s totally okay because it takes a whole lot less discipline to keep doing it.

As ridiculous as this method may sound (especially to people who describe themselves with words like organized and focused), I am glad that I have it and that it works for me.

If you’re as easily distracted as I am, try it… just for a minute.

How Do You Keep Yourself From Getting Distracted?

I’ve shared what I’m finding to work well for me… and I hope that it works well for you, too. If you’re easily distracted, I’d love to hear what kind of things you do to stay on task.

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