How many distractions have you faced today?
If you often feel overwhelmed, distracted, or flustered by your to-dos, you’re not alone.
The last three years of world events aside, our professional and personal demands often pull us in a million distracting directions. And while some technology has helped us streamline productivity, it has also created habits of distraction within us.
How many distractions have come up since you started reading this blog?
Any notifications? Emails? Is your phone calling your name?
If you want to feel like you’re back in control of your day, follow these attention management tips to help boost productivity.
Change Your Perspective with Attention Management
One way to get more done is to stop thinking of organizing your life and work as “time management.” Yes, time management principles can be helpful (such as time blocking or making an appointment with yourself in the calendar to get things done), but too often we find it’s not enough.
That’s because even if you do block out time for yourself to accomplish a certain task, you face two big challenges.
- Hands down, the easiest person to break an appointment with is yourself.
- Distractions can still pull you away. Whatever time you block out is often diminished by distractions — texts, calls, emails, knocks on the door, etc. An hour block can quickly be cut down into a 30-minute block.
For more success with these techniques, you need to shift your perspective about time management.
Because how you manage your time only matters to the extent that you also devote your attention.
Start using the phrase “attention management” more instead of “time management.” That act alone will raise your awareness of how much your attention is being stolen. It will make you aware of how scattered your attention might be.
And awareness is the first step in changing habits.
Manage External Distractions For More Efficiency
Managing your external distractions is critical when it comes to productivity. In order to concentrate, you must control your environment and your technology.
If you work from home and share the space with your family, a significant other, or roommates, never assume they know not to interrupt you. You need to be the one who creates and then communicates the signal or the boundary.
The signal to not interrupt you could be a closed door or a sign that says “Do Not Disturb,” or a scarf on the doorknob. Most importantly, the signal must be honored in order for it to work. You may need to remind others (a few times) that this is your “Do Not Disturb” time. The most important thing is to protect it.
In addition, you have no hope of being present in what you’re doing if you don’t also control your technology. As a professional speaker, you know if you’re doing an event or virtual event you turn everything off.
You should treat all your tasks as such.
For example, if you’re working on a proposal, concentrate completely on the proposal. Silence your phone, shut down your email, and focus on that one task. Another bonus this provides aside from improving your efficiency, is it will also improve your effectiveness. The more focused and present you are, the less prone to errors you’ll be.
Can’t Get Started? SystemizeYour Work
If your biggest problem is you’re starting a big project and have too much to do and you don’t know where to start, then you might be suffering from something that Maura Thomas, MBA, CSP and Attention Management Expert calls “action management.”
Here are her two tips for getting started if you’re feeling like a deer frozen in the headlights:
- Collect all your puzzle pieces into one place. If you have reminders and lists on post-its, in your notebook, voice memos, and calendars, gather them all together and make one master list.
- Then, put that master list in some kind of App. This can be Basecamp, Asana, Microsoft To-do, To-doist, whatever works for you! It just needs to be a tool that was made to manage tasks that’s more robust than Excel or a Word doc.
Trying to manage your actions and tasks and meetings when you have some things in your head, other things in a notebook, and others in a calendar takes a lot of mental exertion. Plus, all the time and effort often causes more internal chatter.
Getting everything in one place and then using a tool that was made for productivity is the only way to get started.
For smaller tasks, another tip is to pay attention to how you write things down. Often, we write things down on our to-do lists in a way that causes friction, i.e. short bullets that provide no direction. This can be a little daunting.
You might see a bullet item on your list and inwardly groan a little bit. That’s because the hardest part of any task is getting started. But, if you can provide more information and direction with that listed item, it will be easier for you to pick up the baton and take action later. With clear direction and less thinking needed, you’ll be more likely to get started and keep it rolling.
Managing all your commitments, information, and communications with a “system” simply means that you have developed a collection of habits and behaviors that work for you. Once you have your personal system down, software and other tools can help you flourish even more.
But if you don’t have a system, you might find yourself working harder and longer than you need to.
Want to learn more? Check out this Speakernomics podcast with Maura Thomas, MBA, CSP who is an attention-management expert! Maura is the person you call when you have a million things on your plate and don’t know where to start. She’s obsessed with the idea of helping other people achieve more and has worked in the productivity industry for almost 30 years.
Click here to listen to the entire 30-minute episode!