How to manage distractions

It’s so easy to become distracted while working. There are so many devices and people demanding attention. Here’s how to manage distractions and remain productive.

As a business owner, you value every minute of every day, and you know how to get things done. You can respond quickly to customer requests and solve new problems as they arise.

Today’s technology helps us achieve this. Who could have imagined the flexibility we would possess in a small device that can fit in our pockets. Our working lives have changed so much but have we changed how we work to reflect this?

Attention management

We used to talk about time management, but nowadays the discussion has switched to attention management. Why? Because technology demands our attention in a way that can force us to abandon our plans. And we may not even realise it.

We are dealing with new circumstances that require new techniques and behaviours. This sounds daunting, but with a few simple changes we can control what we work on, minimise distractions and make sure we are productive.

  1. Take control

The first step is to decide that you want to change. Are you prepared to do things differently? Will you be tough on yourself?

The key to taking control of your distractions is to know what they are. To gather some real data keep a time log for a few days or a week. This may sound like a laborious task, but you will be amazed what you discover about where your time is spent.

Plan your day in the time log and then track the work you do. How many tasks were not planned? Do the proposed jobs take longer than expected? What distracted you from your plan?

  1. Manage, reduce and eliminate distractions

Your data will probably show you that technology is not the only distraction, people are too. This can include clients, staff, colleagues and external callers.

Human distractions

Let’s take people first. They can distract us because of the noise they make; because they sometimes offer a fun alternative to our current work or; because they ask us to do something we hadn’t planned.

Below are some tips to manage these distractions.

  • If you work in an open-plan office, find a quiet place to focus on important work, a meeting room or an empty office
  • If you have your own office and operate an open-door policy for your team, occasionally ask not to be interrupted. If this doesn’t suit your company culture, spend some time working at home
  • If you are asked to do new unplanned work, don’t always say yes. Negotiate based on your priorities and their priorities.

Saying yes or saying no

Find the correct balance between saying yes and saying no. Use your judgement, always reassessing what is best for your business. But in the pursuit of high productivity, be careful not to damage your working relationships.

Digital distractions

Technology can push information into our lives whether we want it or not. The list of things that demand our attention is long – social media alerts, emails, phone calls, text messages. We know this, but we feel we can’t stop it. Technology has become an important tool for promoting our business.

Today’s “always on” digital culture means we can end up working in a very reactive mode, allowing others dictate our work. We can turn these alerts off, but it is often easier to leave them on. We are also inquisitive by nature, and we have a fear of missing out if we are not in touch.

“Should a “like” on Twitter distract you as much as an email from an important client? ”


How to be strategic

The trick is to be strategic. Build in a comfort level by deciding which alerts you need to receive in real time and which can wait until a time you chose.

Don’t give all mobile alerts the same priority. Should a “like” on Twitter distract you as much as an email from an important client?

Plan your digital interaction for set times in the day. When you need to focus on a task switch off your phone or hide it. You can’t always do this, but there may be critical times in your week when you can.

The term “digital detoxification” has been coined to describe this because it is not easy. So strike a balance – be switched on when you need to be and recognise the times when you don’t.

  1. Manage your attention

Sometimes we feel unproductive even when we have created uninterrupted time to focus on critical work. Our productivity is affected by our ability to concentrate. To maintain concentration and energy levels you need to be mindful of what you eat, whether you take breaks and, how much you rest or sleep.

When we run our own business we often compromise these factors. But if you are aware of their impact on productivity it can motivate you to make small adjustments. Even a 15-minute walk at lunchtime can help maintain focus for the afternoon. Choosing a reasonably healthy snack can help power through a tough meeting.

It is also important to recognise when you are losing focus so you can quickly get back on track. These pointers can help you develop this habit:

  1. Decide what you want to work on and for how long
  2. Use frequent checkpoints to see if you are still working to plan
  3. If not make a note of what has distracted you
  4. If possible eliminate that distraction so you can return to your plan

Be productive

When you make changes, it can be hard to stick with it. People say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. It will be different for each of us, but the point is that improvements don’t happen overnight. If you find it hard stop and ask yourself why you can’t maintain the change. Then tweak things to suit your work environment better.

For more information or details about our workplace productivity workshops, please contact me at