A study from The University of California found that it took workers an average of 23 minutes to get back on track after being distracted. Multiply that by the number of distractions you have in a day and you’ve just wasted hours of time just trying to refocus. It’s called context switching. Each time you switch from one task to another, you lose time. If you were to cut out 5 distractions a day, that is equivalent to almost 2 hours of time.
You’re working on a task you were planning to get done that day. The phone rings and it’s a colleague looking for some information. After you help them, you try to get back to your task. Thirty minutes later someone pops their head into your office to see if you “have a quick minute.” They share with you an issue that’s come up that they’d like your input on. You give them some suggestions but tell them to schedule a meeting with you to discuss it more then. As you try to remember what you were working on, you notice you have a text message. You respond to it. You get side tracked again and now you’re responding to emails.
Before you know it, an hour has gone by and you haven’t completed the task you started earlier in the day. The truth is most of us have experienced this to some degree, and it sucks up so much of our time and energy. In an effort to help everyone and be accessible, we actually reduce our effectiveness.
If you want to get more done in less time, you need to limit distractions and set up good systems.
Tip 1: Limit Physical Distractions
Set up a space that promotes productivity and limits distractions. Distractions could include your smart phone, email, phone calls, or in person interruptions.
Put your smart phone behind your computer or where you cannot easily see it and be tempted to use it.
Work somewhere other than your normal office space for a few hours. This could be a conference room, library, coffee shop, or even a colleague’s desk/office. This is particularly helpful if you work in a high traffic area where people are constantly walking by or stopping to talk to you.
If you’re in a noisy environment, invest in a good pair of headphones and listen to music that is designed to get you into flow state. The key is to choose music with few or no lyrics (as they distract) and put your playlist on repeat. A few recommendations from my playlist: Weightless by Marconi Union or Time by Hans Zimmer.
If you’re working on an important deadline, turn on your auto-response emails on with a message such as this. “Thank you for your message. I’m currently working on an important deadline and unavailable until 4pm today. If you need an urgent response, please…(text me, call my direct line, contact xyz,….).”
This method should be used strategically and not all the time. Otherwise, people will not take this sacred time seriously or you will appear to not be accessible.
Tip 2: Do Sprints
Unless your job requires you to take customer calls or requests throughout the day, try to batch your work in time increments using a method called sprinting. Block your calendar for 90 minutes. Then break a goal or task into three 25 minute sprints, or batches. Set your timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, review what you've completed, take a short break, and sprint again for another 25 minutes. You continue this process until your 90 minutes are up. You will be amazed at how much you can get done in three back to back sprints.
Tip 3: Take breaks
It’s not realistic to work hours at a time without taking any physical and mental breaks. Taking breaks refreshes your body and brain so you can stay effective throughout the day. Taking too many breaks has the opposite effect so the key is the right number of breaks and the right amount of time. It’s best to take a 5–10 minute break for every 60–90 minutes of work, not including a longer meal break.
During your breaks do something to rejuvenate like go for a walk, do a quick set of jumping jacks, stretch, or do some deep breathing. Just don’t stay in the same position and environment. The key is to change your physiology to shift the energy in your body, rebalance, and to generate more energy for the next sprint.
Summary of Tips
Call to Action: Test these tips out and share your experience. What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn? What other productivity hacks have worked for you?