How to Handle Distractions

This week is probably the week with the most distractions built in: interruptions from coworkers, parties, end-of-year meetings, and your own holiday to-do list plaguing your mind every half hour. There is nothing wrong with all of these holiday events and to-dos, but it does get tough to stay focused during this time of year. For distractions now and throughout the year, try these strategies:

Designate a no-distraction time

This strategy should help with both physical and mental distractions. Pick a specific time during your day when you won’t let yourself get distracted. Close your door, turn off your wifi, and put in your headphones. You’ll get in the zone, giving yourself the time you need to complete the tasks at hand. Set an amount of time beforehand, too, to help your mind and body stay focused. The amount of time is up to you; you may only need an hour to get everything done, or you may need to break up your no-distraction time into short periods scheduled around meetings and other interactive obligations. Then, if you need to, tell others when you will be available next—after your no-distraction time is complete.

Develop some refocus activities

If you find you are easily distracted, it is a good idea to develop a few refocus activities. The type of activity is up to you; they should be activities that encourage you to get back to your next action list. You can go for a two minute walk around the office to get your oxygen flowing. You can have a quick review session of your action lists. You can write down your thoughts on paper to get you away from the computer screen and to unload whatever is on your mind. Whatever activities you choose, be sure that when you complete them, you train your body to get focused. Developing an automatic response to these activities will make it easier to refocus in the future.

Have a list of while-I’m-derailed-I-might-as-well activities

Each week, I write down a list of tasks I need to complete that can be done during the times when I’ve been derailed from my productivity train. These tasks are usually mundane and take minimal effort. Choose tasks that don’t have an imminent deadline and that can be done if your mind is focused on something else. When you can’t seem to refocus, pull out this list and start working on one of the items. Then, when you’re done, you’ve completed a task, re-boarded the focus train, and are ready to dive back in to the important or higher energy tasks.

Let yourself get distracted

Sometimes, the fastest way to refocus is to let yourself be distracted. It seems counter-intuitive, but fighting your mind to stay focused all day may take more energy than actually indulging your mind in whatever the distraction may be. Plus, punishing yourself all day can dampen your mood and energy level. At this time of year, you don’t want to be caught being a scrooge!

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