We’re all busy. We can all fill up a to-do list with the greatest of ease.
But if you’re anything like me, it’s sometimes difficult to get the stuff on the list done. Of course, there are all kinds of strategies of what to do and how to do it. But even the best strategy can be thwarted by an untimely or irresistible distraction. In the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the face.”
I’m trying to avoid as many punches to the face as I can. For me, the problem isn’t creating my strategy or implementing my strategy to get stuff done. My problem is dealing with the distractions (that often serve as obstacles) I put in my own way or allow to be put in my way. With that in mind, here are ten distractions I’m constantly working to limit or avoid. These are the types of distractions I can actually do something about. Perhaps some of these apply to you as well.
1. The Unstructured Time Distraction
Have you ever had something that needed to be done but you simply couldn’t get to it? This can often occur when I haven’t actually set aside specific amounts of time to get something done. If there’s work to be done, put a block of time on your calendar dedicated to completing the work. If you don’t schedule your own time, someone else will. If you do this, you now have a built-in response to lesser priorities, “I’m sorry, I already have a commitment at that time.”
2. The Lack Of Closure Distraction
There are a lot of tasks that will take as much time as you are willing to put into them. This is why it is crucial to put a deadline on tasks, not only for a certain day, but also for a certain time if necessary. Imagine what a counseling session would look like if they didn’t keep things to the hour time slot. Sometimes I’ll get stuck spending more time than necessary on the tiniest thing. This often keeps me from completing the project as a whole. With the help of a deadline, I’m forced to do my best work within the time allotted in order to get it done.
3. The Lack Of A Plan Distraction
This is a distraction that occurs because we allow the work to come to us rather than planning for the work we want to accomplish. We don’t have a to-do list. We don’t know what to do now and next. We simply react to whatever comes across our desk. The best way to remove this distraction is to create a plan. Grab a calendar and plan out your day before it happens. Identify what needs to get done and allocate time for that. Create space for the unforeseen circumstance. Being intentional is an enemy to this type of distraction.
4. The Do-It-All-Yourself Distraction
One of the tensions that exists within leadership is between feeling responsible for everything and feeling like you have to do everything. There is always going to be stuff that needs to get done. The question is: are you the right person to do it? Sometimes the work we should have delegated gets in the way of the work we should be doing. Take another look at your to-do list. Are there items on the list you can hand off to someone else? What are the items on the list that only you can do?
5. The Perfectionist Distraction
How many times have you failed to complete a task or project because of one small detail that just wasn’t quite right? More than you can count? Than you and I are card-carrying members of the “perfectionistic-tendencies” club. I’ve learned this can be a big distraction, keeping me from moving on the the next thing. This distraction is subtle. I think I’m being productive because I am working on the task. But it smacks right in the face of the law of diminishing returns. Besides, perfection is so elusive. The goal here is excellence (that’s achievable).
6. The Urgent Distraction
While I’m writing this post – the office phone rings, my cell phone rings, the mail shows up, someone stops by, and I suddenly remember something else needing to get done today. We are all constantly bombarded by people and tasks demanding a response…now. Without a plan in place, we could spend our days like a pinball ricocheting from one urgent need to the next. The cure for the urgent distraction is to figure out what’s important. The reality is: if everything is important, than nothing is important. When we identify what’s important, we can better decide what urgent matters need to wait.
7. The Drop-By-To-Say-Hi Distraction
There I am, completely focused on a project or task…I’m in the zone. Then, someone pops their head in. Or someone stops by and wants to chat. And my productivity comes to a standstill. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being friendly and I want to be available to those around me. But availability doesn’t always mean accessibility. In order to get a handle on this distraction, I have one rule I share with those around me: My door is always open…unless it’s closed.
8. The Chatroom Distraction
The online chatroom was a great invention. Aside from all of the stalkers who might prowl around in there, it changed the way we communicated. It was part of the technological tipping point that moved quick communication (anywhere in the world) from talking to typing. Unfortunately, it also led to people expecting every type of digital communication to exist in real time. Thus, we feel pressure to answer every text, tweet, email, status update, or comment immediately. Or worse, we constantly check to see if someone has responded to us on one of these channels. This is simply sucking away our productive time.
9. The Technology Distraction
This is closely related to the previous distraction. But it’s the technology that gives us access to all of this information and has the ability to interrupt us. With the evolution of smart phones, I can be connected…constantly. It is so easy to find myself running down the rabbit trails of information, mindlessly surfing the net, or diving into an entire season’s worth of episodes from an exciting tv show. The best remedy I’ve found for this and the previous distraction in the list: turn it off.
10. The Meeting Distraction
Most meetings aren’t a good use of time, both because of the purpose of the meeting and the way the meeting is run. If you’re not sure whether or not I need to be at your meeting, then please don’t invite me. If you really want to know how I feel about meetings, please read 33 Rapid-Fire Thoughts On Meetings. Not all meetings are bad. It’s just that not all meetings are necessary. If you can find a way to avoid the unnecessary meetings, you’ll have more time to do the necessary work. Guaranteed!
Take a moment and look back through the list. Identify the distraction you struggle with the most. In the comments below, share which distraction you struggle with and one action step you can take to control it.