Time is a precious thing. There are only so many minutes and hours in the day, and yet sometimes, colleagues will come to you with dumb questions or forward you silly emails that throw you off your game and prevent you from finishing your projects. In the modern workplace, distractions are everywhere, and they can be tough to avoid.
But it is possible, and in a great U.S. News & World Reports post titled “Say Goodbye to Workplace Distractions,” Career Sherpa blogger Hannah Morgan shares four tips for blocking out all the white noise and focusing on what’s important. Her advice comes from Edward G. Brown, author The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had, and it’s well worth a read.
Brown’s first tip is to “track interruptions.” While this may seem counterintuitive, since you’re essentially devoting more time to distractions, it can sometimes be helpful to keep a log of how and when you’re being interrupted, just so you have written proof of how many hours you’ll save by, say, avoiding chats with Steve from accounting at the coffee machine. “If you realize that you could have four more hours a week by eliminating distractions,” Morgan writes, “how would that motivate you?”
The next tip is to “just say no” to requests from coworkers — just make sure you say it correctly. If someone comes to you with a question, indicate that you’ll do it later. That way, you’re not turning them down flat, and you’ll still seem like a team player. That’s all well and good, but what if it’s your boss doing the asking? Brown recommends reminding your supervisor that you’re working on something of higher importance. If they want to reprioritize your to-do list, that’s up to them.
The third tip is especially important: “protect your key projects.” Over the course of a week, there are certain projects that demand your highest attention. Make sure you leave time for them. As Brown says, it’s common to underestimate how long projects will take, which is why tracking your time is all the more important.
Lastly, Brown recommends you “make it a weekly ritual.” Once you have your plan for avoiding distractions, get it on paper and do your best to stick with it. “Scheduling time on your calendar each week for specific deliverables enables you to plan your days and eliminate crises and stress associated from distractions and procrastination,” Morgan writes. You might also try “clustertasking,” or group together similar tasks to avoid the dips in work quality that often come with juggling too many things at once.