I know I have to work on minimizing distractions when I start feeling disorganized. Even though Pete and I constantly think about simplifying life and work, we’re busier than ever and maintaining personal productivity is challenging. The reasons behind this are all wonderful: we’re traveling more, business is growing, we’re given additional responsibilities from clients, and we keep adding projects. But all these disparate elements compete with each other, have an effect on our overall stress level and eat away at our productivity. Prioritizing and minimizing distractions is the only way to power through a constantly growing to-do list.
I so related to a post by Jordan Cohen for Harvard Business Review: Caught in London with No Pants. Jordan was distracted while packing and had to scramble for suitable business attire after a transatlantic flight. Talk about stress level! When we recently returned from our lengthy stay at the cabin, Pete and I were distracted during the packing process, too: the riding lawn mower was broken and needed to be delivered for repairs on our way home. This added a couple of unexpected hours to our schedule. When we finally arrived, I discovered that I had completely overlooked packing the contents of one significant drawer. Most of my underwear did not make it home.
Personal productivity gurus Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and Steve Pavlina advise paying attention to how you’re spending your time, analyzing where you can simplify, and cultivating your overall awareness of how you work best. Then, they say, you must actually reduce the amount of time you spend working in order to create optimum productivity efficiencies and achieve work-life balance for positive impact on your stress level. Minimizing distractions is critical to this process. Focused activity in shorter spurts, they say, is critical to better productivity.
Here are the strategies I use to keep distractions to a minimum and personal productivity high:
1. To-Do List organized by project. My stress level decreases when I can see what needs to be done. Crossing things off is satisfying and keeps the end goal in mind.
2. Block out periods of time to devote to a specific task. I know that one recurring deadline requires approximately 4 hours of work, total. If I can successfully budget this time period within a typical month, my stress level goes down.
3. Start a task with a clean slate. For me, this means a desk cleared of clutter, email alerts turned off, phone calls directed to voicemail and social media ignored. Adapting and controlling my work environment so that I’m minimizing distractions forces me to address only the task in front of me.
4. Give myself some cheat time. Because I enjoy scanning random information, interacting on social media, perusing emails – all activities that make me feel more “connected” – I allow myself a few hours every several days to do those things without negative repercussions. When the allotted cheat time is up, I return to more focused work and resume my quest for better personal productivity.
Cohen cites how interruptions affect personal productivity and can increase our stress level. Minimizing distractions, according to studies by Gloria Mark (UC-Irvine) and Donald Wetmore (The Productivity Institute) could save us from the effects of 50 to 60 interruptions each day. Depending upon the length of time it takes to return to productivity – Mark thinks it’s about 5 minutes; Wetmore believes it can take as long as 30 minutes – we could be losing 4 to 5 hours per day. If true, minimizing distractions by half could mean the potential to bill a couple thousand dollars more per month. That’s significant.
I know there are people who go through life in a happily disorganized state, but I’m not one of them. If I flit from one thing to another, I get less done. I do better if I am able to concentrate on one thing at a time. Minimizing distractions reduces my stress level and increases my personal productivity. How about you?