What is the biggest barrier to getting things done? You are! Yes, you. Learn how to focus and you’ll get much more done.
People often complain about constant interruptions and constant distractions in our fast-moving world. And they are right. But these are two totally different things! Interruptions happen because of other people, but distractions happen because of ourself. You can certainly do things to minimise interruptions, but you have far more control over distractions – so tackle them first.
Creative geniuses in history knew this!
In the book “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”, Mason Currey looks at the daily lives of famous artists, scientists, thinkers and other famous people we might call “geniuses”. He found that many of these people had their own way of creating a workplace with minimal distractions. For example, artist N.C. Wyeth, to prevent being distracted by the view outside his window, taped cardboard to the side of his glasses.
Others found ways to minimise interruptions – like William Faulkner detaching the doorknob to his room while working, or Graham Greene working from a secret location that only his wife knew.
We might not be able to do the same things, but there are ways to minimise distractions. Here are four ideas …
1. Know what matters
It’s easier to say No to distractions when you have a bigger Yes driving your decisions. Know what’s really important to you, and make sure you focus on those things.
Don’t just make goals once a year, and then forget about them for the rest of the year. Instead, spend 15 minutes at the start of every day to list three important things you want to do that day. Whenever you get distracted or tempted by something else, go back to your list and check whether you’re still on track.
(I got this idea from my wonderful friend, Neen James, a brilliant productivity expert. We talk about this – and much more in the audio program Folding Time).
2. Force focus
When many of our distractions come from the screen in front of us, taping cardboard to our glasses won’t help. But there are high-tech equivalents, such as the app Anti-Social, which blocks social media sites (and other sites you choose) for a block of time.
There are other tools to help with specific tasks – such as FocusWriter for giving you a distraction-free screen for writing.
You might think it’s beneath you to force yourself not to be distracted. But hey, if it works, it’s worth it! Besides, you might decide that you only need this for a while – like trainer wheels on a bike – to help you learn the discipline of not being distracted.
3. Work in sprints
If you just can’t imagine spending an hour or two on one task, don’t! Split up your time into smaller segments, so you can work really hard in that short segment and then take a break.
This is the thinking behind The Pomodoro Technique. You do a short “sprint” of work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, then get back to work for 25 minutes, and so on. The idea is that 25 minutes is long enough to get into a task, but not too long that you’ll get distracted.
Once you get used to this, experiment with the times to find one that works for you. One recent piece of research suggests that a 52-minute work sprint followed by a 17-minute break is ideal. For me, I’m currently doing a 40-minute sprint and an 8-minute break.
4. Start keeping track
Finally, it might be enlightening (and sobering!) to just keep track of your time every day. That way, you’ll know where your time goes, and that might be enough to convince you to take better care of it.
You can do this the old-fashioned way with a grid marked in 15-minute segments, where you just record (honestly!) what you’re doing during the day. Or use an online tracking tool like RescueTime.com to automate this for you.
It doesn’t take a genius …
You don’t have to be a genius to know that reducing distractions will help you be more productive. But are you doing anything about it? The nice thing about the ideas above is that they are all easy to try. So just pick one and do it for a while. If it works, great! If not, try something else.
9 Daily Habits of Creative Geniuses: Free Webinar on Thursday
How did the most creative minds on the planet get things done? Tap into their genius to find your own!
When: Thursday 13th November, 8-8.30am WA time, 11-11.30am AEDT
This webinar will be recorded, and the recording will be available to members of the eGurus Community.