Several weeks into lockdown, many of us are realising that working from home isn’t always the panacea we’d assumed it to be. Without a strategy for dodging distractions, it’s far too easy to find ourselves doing chores, online shopping or getting distracted by the news when we’re supposed to be working.
All too commonly, we then end up disappointing our optimistic morning selves by achieving less than we’d hoped in a day. So, pat yourself on the back if you’ve cracked the code to productivity in the midst of a scary global crisis. And, if you haven’t, these tips should help…
Learn to recognise distractions
We’ve quickly learnt that, in lockdown, some distractions are unavoidable – children need our attention, couriers need us to answer the door, dogs need walking. However, many more are avoidable and the key to productivity is learning to recognise the difference.
The problem with avoidable distractions is that they’re mostly enjoyable: they rescue us from having to face reality and they spare us, momentarily, from the more difficult tasks we ought to be doing. A scroll through Instagram, a call with a friend, or a watch of today’s trending homemade video clip all provide fleeting comic relief.
But there’s a huge cost to every small distraction. A study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that it can take more than 23 minutes to refocus and get back to the original task at hand after being distracted. Suddenly, it becomes clear how easy it is to lose a large chunk of your working day if you let your attention wander.
List the biggest culprits
Identify the enemy because, once we know what we’re likely to be distracted by, it’s so much easier to prevent these things from stealing our attention and time. Keep a distraction list beside your computer as a constant reminder, and to help you take steps to minimise their risks. For example, if your smartphone is on the list, put it on silent and leave it in another room.
If you’re struggling to come up with a list of distractions, you can flip this around and do it another way by compiling a daily shortlist of the goals you need to achieve by close of business. Anything not on that list is a distraction to be avoided.
Schedule a ‘distraction demolition’
As distractions appear throughout your working day, don’t take any immediate action, simply note them down. Then, schedule a strictly limited time slot in your day to perform a ‘distraction demolition’.
This is an intensive period in which you deal with everything that has made the distraction list in one fell swoop – returning messages, calls and emails, reading news articles your friends have shared, or online shopping. By compressing dealing with distractions into one slot, you win back control of your time and focus.
Put yourself on an information ‘diet’
It’s hard to tear ourselves away from the news in troubled times: we all feel the urge to stay informed. But the news also has the power to alter our mood, induce stress and anxiety and throw us off our game.
Start to view your news consumption as you would a diet. How can you design a healthy information diet? First, view your news consumption sessions as planned meals. Schedule a couple of slots in your working day when you sit down with the intention of reading the headlines. Do this away from your workspace and set a timer. When the timer pings, close or put away any articles you’ve been reading. Next, cut out low-quality ‘junk’ news that is written to make you click and will therefore probably upset you or make you angry. Get your news directly from trusted, uninflammatory sources and not via social media posts.
Productivity expert Barnaby Lashbrooke is author of The Hard Work Myth and CEO of virtual assistant site Time Etc.
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