I read the other day that our average attention span is 8 seconds. 8 SECONDS.
What are we, goldfish?
I’d like to think that us Penelopes are a bit more disciplined than that, but truth be told, sometimes I struggle to focus. And sometimes it’s really hard to ignore the siren’s call of the internet during my work day…
I think those of us who work in the digital realm are especially susceptible to distraction. We start our work day full of good intentions, caffeine and energy. We’re ready to destroy our to-do lists while shooting off emails and taking names. And then it happens…
See what I mean? One viral video or email or text message or IM or phone call has the ability to take our day completely off course. And let’s be honest. Often times they are self-interruptions. We choose to check our Facebook notifications or order that one thing off Amazon, for example. Quick bouts of task-switching that may seem harmless; but in reality, even minor interruptions can be a HUGE barrier to effective time management.
Case in point? Studies have shown that after an interruption it takes us 23 minutes to shift back our thinking and re-engage with the workflow we were previously in.
Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Here are 7 strategies to avoid workday interruptions and stay on track:
- Put Up The “Do Not Disturb” Sign
Sure, this can be an actual Do Not Disturb door hanger for your office (this one’s really cute), but if your job is like mine, you may work from home. At Here Comes The Guide, most of us work remotely and connect throughout the day via Mac Messages. One tactic we use to alert each other when we’re unavailable is our Away message. It’s like a virtual Do Not Disturb sign wherein we actively let our co-workers know whether or not it’s appropriate to ping us. For example, if I have a red iChat status labeled “Cocoon of Focus,” my co-workers know they should only interrupt me if something is truly urgent.
- Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Two words: Block scheduling. If you haven’t read these posts on the life-changing magic of block scheduling, you must do that now. Block scheduling is a combination of focused blocks of work + scheduled intervals for your more reactive work like answering emails and returning phone calls. It’s the best way to ensure you’re prioritizing your important work—not just dealing with incoming work.
- Don’t Phone It In
If you are in a block of intense focus, turn your phone to silent. Let calls go to voicemail. Or, if you must answer, preface the conversation with these 7 magic words: “I have a meeting in 30 minutes.” A clear, scheduled end time will save you from super-chatty clients or coworkers.
- Block Out Virtual Distractions
Working in digital marketing means 8 hours per day on a computer—and that includes social media. Sometimes, you just need help avoiding distracting websites. Focus is a Mac program that blocks them with one click. My favorite part is that if you attempt to access a blocked website, a motivational quote is shown to inspire you back to work. Because who can argue with Gavin Newsom’s wise words: “What you focus on, you can resolve.”
- Just Say No. Or At Least “Later”
Meredith tells us this all the time: You teach people how to treat you. You are not at the mercy of everyone else. You do not have to drop what you’re doing in favor of assisting someone else (unless it’s urgent, of course). You do not have to always say yes! Learning to say no, or at least being in control of when you’re available to assist, will keep you ahead of your own work and not at the mercy of someone else’s.
- Take Breaks!
As the workday hours go on, it’s natural to feel your alertness dwindle, which makes you more susceptible to distractions. When this happens, remember to say: STOP! Theta Time. Taking short breaks will boost your brainpower, keeping you sharp throughout the 8-hour day.
- The Golden Rule
Lastly, treat people how YOU want to be treated. If you don’t want people interrupting you, don’t interrupt them. If you prefer email communication, don’t constantly ping your co-workers over IM. If you don’t welcome people striking up conversations at your desk on the fly, don’t start chatting them up on a whim. Respect your co-workers’ workflow and they’ll surely return the favor.
It may take some time, but the ultimate goal is to create a set schedule, re-train your brain to stick to it, and stop automatically responding to external cues like pings and notifications. In other words: Manage your day, don’t let your day manage you.
How do you avoid distractions? What are your best focus hacks? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.