I was always someone who struggled with time management. I tried lists, planners, organisers – you name it, but it was only when I changed my mindset and approach that I regained control.
Time is always a challenge and while we can’t make more of it, we can better manage the time we have. When we manage our time well, we are more likely to achieve our goals, in a shorter length of time and with a lot less stress along the way.
When we fail to manage our time, we don’t get things done on time, or as well as we might want, and we often end up encroaching on our personal time, in order to complete work tasks.
In this series of articles, I am going to share some of the most common time thieves – the things that steal your focus – so that you can use the time you have more effectively.
This piece explores distractions – my biggest challenge!
Does this sound familiar? You start out on a task, such as drafting a business proposal, then find yourself on the internet reading some celebrity gossip or perhaps you decide to quickly reply to that text or answer that call, maybe there’s a letter on your desk that catches your eye.
Distractions are all around and it’s not the 5 minute interruption that’s the problem - it’s the 25 minutes it takes to regain our train of thought and get back to being in flow.
One of the best ways to avoid distractions is to have a schedule. A schedule is distinct from a to-do list; it’s how you plan your week; start times, finish times, lunch times, calls, meetings plus quiet time, planning time etc. Schedule everything in your working day.
Making and following a task schedule reduces anxiety. As you check off items, you can see that you are making tangible progress. This helps you avoid feeling stressed out with worry about whether you’re getting things done.
When doing a lot of tasks without a break, it is harder to stay focused and motivated. Allow some downtime between tasks to clear your head and refresh yourself.
Write down the deadlines for projects, or for tasks that are part of completing the overall project. Think about which days might be best to dedicate to specific tasks. For example, you might need to plan a meeting to discuss cash flow on a day when you know the accountant is available.
Maintain a clean and tidy workspace, make sure you have everything you need close to hand – but nothing else. It’s all too easy to be distracted by the letter that needs a reply, the printer that needs ink or the magazine article you haven’t finished reading.
If I’m really struggling to concentrate, I find that two things help – standing (I don’t know the science, but it seems to work) and relocating. Kitchens, dining rooms, bedrooms even home offices are full of distractions. Sometimes I will work on the landing or in the hall of my house. I use an ironing board as a desk; it’s height adjustable, portable and easily stored.
Find some way of communicating that you are not to be disturbed – it may be as simple as a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign stuck on your door, an out of office message on your email or switching off your phone. Otherwise, breaking your concentration, even to say you’ll talk later, can lead to many other distractions.
Don’t multi-task, it’s a myth. Focus on one task at a time, complete it and move on.
Turn off technology or at least push notifications. There is always something happening that will catch your attention. Switch off everything that you can and put your phone out of reach. Channel your attention by working at only one monitor and opening only one window.
Hopefully, some of these suggestions will help improve focus and concentration, reducing distractions. The next blog will address planning and prioritising.