Research suggests that when we are distracted from a piece of work it takes between 10 and 15 minutes to get back to that point of focus afterwards. It is therefore not surprising that our scheduled work tasks are not being completed, when we are being distracted many times each day.
What can we do to manage our external distractions?
Receiving emails, phone calls and instant messages are a huge distraction for many. Consider allocating particular times of the day to deal with these. You could check your emails for example, in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the day. Is it possible for you to use voicemail for incoming calls or ask someone else to take messages when appropriate? If the auto alert on your emails is distracting you, turn it off. By not reading and replying to emails immediately, you are allowing yourself to focus on the task in hand.
When scheduling tasks, plan your work around your energy levels. If your optimum focus time is in the morning, consider allocating your most challenging work to a morning slot. Working from home is a fantastic option to avoid workplace distractions but this may not be feasible for you. Could you work at home for a couple of hours at the start/end of the day to ensure your optimum focus time is being used effectively? You do of course need to take into account the distractions that may be present at home.
Where you have high focus tasks scheduled, try and focus on one task at a time. It is more effective in the long run. Schedule your day in terms of the order you will complete your tasks and agree with yourself beforehand the level of completeness required for each task before you allow yourself to move onto the next. Certain low focus tasks can clearly be multitasked such as drinking your coffee and reading an email but can the same be said for replying to a client email whilst you are in a meeting?
These are interruptions that you are effectively causing yourself and some of the external distractions already mentioned may actually be internal distractions for you. Internal distractions include boredom (causing you to flit from one task to another or surf the internet) worry, self-doubt, procrastination and wanting to try and fix everybody else's problems. None of these are helping you achieve your planned work schedule. It's useful to take a step back and think about why you are allowing these distractions to interrupt you.
The key with internal distractions is goal setting. Before going home each evening, consider what you would like to achieve the following day, and allot time to each task. Focus on two or three important tasks but be realistic with what you can achieve.
Remember, if you are distracted by the same thing daily, and it isn't possible to eliminate it, minimise it or delegate it to somebody else, it's probably not a distraction and actually a task that should have been scheduled the evening before.