Are you managing distractions or are they managing them?
I recently worked with a client who was feeling overwhelmed in his work. He came to me looking disheveled, stressed and carrying a notebook with lots of post-it notes hanging out of it. His work involved a mix of working in the office and being out on a water treatment site. He looked exhausted and like he had a lot on his mind.
As part of his session with me I also asked him to bring me a picture of his workspace. His computer had lots of post-it notes stuck to the sides and bottom of the screen and the pin board above his desk was covered in coloured post it notes.
I asked him if he was sleeping very well and he said he wakes up during the night thinking about work and tasks he needs to complete or has forgotten about. He said he was tired and not sure how long he could stay in the job. It always amazes me the power that distractions can have on our health and job satisfaction.
So what is a distraction?
When I work with clients I say they’re the internal thoughts of things not done. As opposed to interruptions that are driven by others.
Tony Schwarz is a visiting professor at Harvard University and his studies have found that people can only hold 7 things in their brain at once…. Yes, that’s right, 7 things of “Okay, I’ll have to remember to do that”. Don’t you want the freedom to come up with some creative ideas instead of it being used to store your to do list?
So now what is the most effective way to manage them?
1. Write it down. Make sure you have a home for managing them, and by that I mean one home, not lots of different homes (i.e. post it notes.) Have a notebook where you write your list or use your reminder list in your iPhone. Make sure you leave a notepad beside your bed at night to capture distractions if you wake up. Ideas also count as distractions and come long at really inappropriate times! Just catch them and write them down either in your notebook or phone. My favourite tool for m is the app I developed with best-selling author and productivity expert Dermot Crowley, managing distractions is Memo Mailer. Wherever it is, make sure that home is with you at all times!
2. Determine how long the task will take. Less than 10 into the task list, more than 10 into the calendar and create a meeting with yourself to do it. For those less than 10 minute jobs batch them together and create a daily recurrence in your calendar to get your task list done. For most clients I would generally say put 30-1hr into your calendar each day for this.
3. Delegate it. Sometimes tasks hang around with us thinking we need to do it. If you have staff, ask someone to do it for you. Where possible delegate it, otherwise it just keeps hanging around.
4. Do It Now. If it’s a quick job (i.e. less than 10 mins). Don’t procrastinate, move it on to the next logical step, whether it’s make that call, write it down or put a time to do it in your calendar. Do something with it immediately.
5. Create checklists for processes. Of those tasks that you do repeatedly create checklists for them so you don’t forget each step and if you need to delegate you can because it’s documented. The more that is stored in your brain the more pressure there is for you. I use checklists for travel, my coaching and training sessions. I also have a bad habit of forgetting things from jumping between suitcases so I have double makeup, 2 sets of toiletries and leave one in the bathroom and one in my travel bag.
So I saw Paul a couple of weeks later as a follow up and he was sleeping better, getting his work completed and using his brain to come up with creative solutions to problems instead of being used as a to do list. He was now using his phone to capture tasks as they synced with his task list in Outlook and his phone went with him everywhere. He said it felt like a weight has lifted off his shoulders.
I don’t believe we are managing distractions poorly, we just haven’t been shown the best way to capture them. By managing distractions you’ll feel more in control of your day than your day being in control of you!
Love to know your thoughts…
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