How To Prevent Distractions And Interruptions The Easy Way

There has never been a time in human history where we have been more distracted than we are right now.

The distraction and interruption options are endless — we have mobile devices, social media, 500+ television channels, instant messaging services, and the list goes on and on.

The challenge for most of us today is being able to be as effective and productive as possible amidst all the distractions and interruptions we face. It’s not that we don’t have the ability to focus better, it’s that it’s so much easier to caught up in the distractions and interruptions because we don’t have strategies in place to manage or prevent our distractions and interruptions.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Distractions and interruptions are the ultimate productivity killer and time waster. Have you ever had the experience where you were in the middle of doing something, fully concentrating and suddenly you were distracted? How long did it take for you to get back to the same level of focus and concentration you had before you were distracted?

It has been estimated that it takes anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes from the time we end the distraction or interruption to just get back to where we were prior to the distraction and interruption. And if we have numerous distractions and interruptions throughout our day, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll get anything useful done at all.

In our modern work life, I think there are five main distractors or interrupters. These are:

  • Emails
  • Instant messages
  • Mobile devices
  • The internet
  • People

Here’s a breakdown of each one and what can be done to prevent them from happening in the first place or alternatively, manage them a lot better.

  1. Email interruptions. Not only do we get a lot of emails, most of us in the modern work environment are addicted to checking emails. It’s even worse if we have the automatic pop-up, which alerts us of any new email.

    Solution: Firstly, turn off any automatic pop-ups and beeps or sounds associated with emails. Secondly, close your email program or browser when you are working. If you work is dependant upon you checking and responding to emails, then schedule email time in your calendar. It may be once in the morning, once before lunch, once mid-afternoon and once before you finish work for the day. Thirdly, do not respond to emails straight away because when you do that, you are letting others know that you’re always available and can be emailed at any time. Instead, only respond to emails certain time during the day, which in turn, will let others know not to expect a response straight away. There are obviously exceptions to these suggestions and you should manage your emails the best way possible.

  2. Instant message interruptions. These include online chat services like Skype, Messenger, Facebook, etc. These interruptions are real time wasters and should be avoided at all costs.

    Solution: Firstly, turn all of these services off when you are working. Secondly, schedule time in your calendar, just like for checking and responding to emails, for these distractions. This is known as scheduling your distractions. Not only will you save time during your day, when you actually respond to these messages, you will be conscious of responding quickly and efficiently.

  3. Mobile device distractions. The mobile world has made it easier for us to stay connected and it has also made it so much easier for us to get distracted. We’re addicted to our mobile devices!

    Solution: Firstly, as mentioned previously, schedule time to catch-up on whatever you need to catch-up on via your mobile device. And limit the time you spend checking things on your device by using a countdown timer. Secondly, and this may be challenging, is to delete all unnecessary apps from your devices. Personally, I have removed my email and all social media apps from my phone. I am now using my phone for what it was originally designed for — to make and receive phone calls. Almost everything else I do on my mobile device is a time waster and does not bring me any benefit at all. Try it and see how that works for you.

  4. Internet distraction. Our lives are so dependant on the internet that it will be foolish to suggest eliminating the internet. However, we can be smart in how we use the internet.

    Solution: Firstly, allocate time during your day for internet browsing if that is so important to you. For example, you may say between 10.00am and 10.30am, then between 5.00pm and 6.00pm, I will do what I need to do online. Secondly, create more time in your day by getting up earlier or going to bed later. Imagine how much of an impact losing an hour and a half has on your productivity if that’s the amount of time you spend on the internet? Therefore, you may have to get up earlier or eliminate another activity you do, like watching television. Just know that all our time is allocated, whether we do something productive with it or whether we waste it.

  5. People interruptions. How do you deal with work colleagues, especially those who have a tendency to ask, “Have you got a minute?” We all know that it’s never a minute and these unscheduled interruptions destroy our productivity.

    Solution: Send out a memo or an email to your teammates or colleagues saying you will not be having “Got a minute?” meetings anymore. Instead, they have to send you a meeting request with specific outcomes and items to discuss clearly defined. You will find that this will result in a couple of things. Firstly, the inconvenience of setting up meetings and creating meeting agendas will deter your teammates or colleagues from setting up unnecessary meetings. And secondly, they will start taking more responsibility and solve issues, that they relied on you for, themselves.

The message is quite clear — the best way to prevent distractions and interruptions is to be a lot more intentional in how we deal with them. While it will be challenging to completely remove all these five distractions and interruptions, if we’re intentional, we can start scheduling them into our day so that we can devote more of our time to the tasks or activities that will move us forward and closer to the outcomes we want.

Action Step: Choose one of these distractions first and apply the strategies suggested. If they work, go onto the next distraction and work you way through all of them. If any of the strategies mentioned does not work for you, find out why they haven’t work. Are you resisting something? Seek assistance if you need to.

Question: What is the biggest distraction or interruption that you know you should eliminate? When will you do it?

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