Business has always been hectic, making multiple and often simultaneous demands upon our time. The great promise of digitization enabling us to do things faster and more accurately didn’t relieve the pressure, but added to it with a generous helping of distraction to further fracture our focus. The communication devices to which so many of us are attached also contribute to the deterioration of focused productivity. These distractions leads us to wasted time, missed deadlines, and the feeling that you didn’t accomplish much today.
The culprit for our split attention doesn’t rest upon the many demands upon our time or the devices we use: it rests squarely upon our own shoulders. In his HuffPost article “How to Do Work: 8 Strategies to Stop Wasting Time and Get Things Done,” Nate Green lays out his personal strategy for productivity. Taking a realistic approach to human nature, he acknowledges that “Some days you just want to be active on social media and throw some jabs on Facebook or Twitter.” The primary starter to the work day entails remembering you’re an adult and acting like it.
That means establishing boundaries. The consequence of flexible work arrangements that allow people to work from home and across multiple devices are an inability to stop working. Impose discipline upon yourself to check email during specific times; to plan out what you’re going to do for the day, week, or month; to decide on a quitting time and then stick to it. The body and mind both need time away from the job to relax and recharge.
If you work in an office where you can shut the door, use that door to indicate to coworkers those time when you are not to be disturbed. Socialization adds another level of distraction that reduces productivity when it prevents you from actually doing your work. If you can’t close an office door, it’s perfectly all right to inform a colleague that you’re busy and don’t have time to talk right now and that you’d be happy to speak with them later.
Bustle offers complementary advice regarding tips to keep focused and productive so that you actually accomplish something. This entails taking notice of your bodily rhythms. For instance, if you find yourself fighting off postprandial naps early in the afternoon, then note when you’re more alert and on-task. Prioritize your work so that those important, must-do-now tasks fall into your hands during those times when your energy is at its peak. Use other methods to keep you on track, whether that’s a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage or listening to music that energizes you. Making lists also helps to arrange and prioritize the day; however, be sure to keep the daily list simple and short so it won’t overwhelm you.
Finally–and you knew this was coming–develop guidelines to follow. Guidelines are the routines or processes that keep you, your team, and your projects on track. These processes set expectations and benchmarks for achievement. They assign responsibilities and establish accountabilities. In that way, the processes that manage your daily work help you and the rest of your staff know who does what and when it must be done. Other tasks and breaks–or distractions–can then be scheduled around those benchmarks. Processes help us use our time wisely and avoid distractions.