Distracted? 5 Tips for a Productive, Distraction-Free Workday


Distractions are all around us, and they’re only getting worse. According to CNBC, one in five bosses believe their employees put in less than five hours of actual work per day. Assuming an eight-hour workday, that translates to three working hours squandered per person, per day.

The Washington Post’s analysis is even more dire. Post journalist Brigid Schulte interviewed an efficiency expert who claimed that workplace distractions cost workers up to six hours of productive time each day, leaving just two hours for actual work. In other words, just 25% of their on-the-clock time is devoted to, you know, actual work.

For businesses focused on deliverables and bottom-line performance, this looks like a human resources issue. In many cases, it is.

However, business leaders are just as prone to distraction as their subordinates — perhaps more so, given the varied nature of their duties and the competing demands for their attention. The problem is particularly acute for business owners and independent professionals, who may work alone or in near-solitude and report to no one but their pets and the occasional barista.

“One of the biggest challenges of working for yourself is resisting distractions. It is very easy to become distracted, and then the work doesn’t get done,” writes Jane Hurst in a LifeHack post on business hacks from Pennsylvania entrepreneur Steve Voudouris.

Every minute spent on distractions is a minute away from what’s really important: producing excellent work, meeting deadlines, acquiring new clients, improving your cash flow, and just generally running your business.

In isolation, each of these five tips can help move the needle. Together, they could just turn you into a production machine.

  1. Avoid Multitasking

Multitasking feels so right, especially when your plate is full to the brim. Unfortunately, it’s often so, so wrong.

Study after study shows that multitasking is actually less efficient than devoting full attention to discrete tasks in linear fashion. Among other reasons, it’s far easier to make preventable errors when your attention is divided. Errors need to be fixed and, depending on how bad they are, they may necessitate a lot of additional work. Why not get the job done right the first time?

  1. Be Mindful

Mindfulness is all the rage these days. For efficiency hounds, it’s an essential tool for managing and warding off distractions.

Learn to recognize the signs of distraction: restlessness, irritability, divided attention, whatever. Then learn to push those feelings out of your mind, or at least suppress them under positive feelings of productiveness. When it’s no longer possible to do so, that’s when it’s time to take a break.

  1. Batch Similar Tasks for Greater Efficiency

Simply shifting from one type of task to another can sap productivity. Even the most nimble workers can take a while to re-orient themselves around new sets of imperatives.

If you frequently find lots of similar but discrete tasks on your place, learn to batch them. Check them off the list, one by one, while you’re fresh and focused on the problems they present. Once the last is done, move on to qualitatively different tasks, rather than trying to fit those into the gaps in your batch.

  1. Compartmentalize Email and Chat

Don’t ignore your emails and chat notifications. Just don’t check them reflexively. Set aside discrete checking periods throughout the day — maybe 10 minutes at the end of every other hour, or three 15-minute blocks at the beginning, middle, and end of the workday. Whatever works best for you.

  1. Maintain Your Momentum

When you’re working on larger projects that you can’t complete in a single sitting, momentum is key. Manage and maintain it by breaking those projects into smaller tasks that you can complete quickly. This sets you up for easy, morale-boosting victories and lets you tell yourself — truthfully — that you’re getting closer to the finish line.

How are you minimizing distractions and improving productivity throughout the workday?