Today I’m sharing some techniques that help create better work habits so you can stop getting distracted, boost business productivity, and start getting your most important work done! Because as business owners, we all want to create more momentum, leverage our time and live our best life – right?
In the next two articles, I’m excited to talk about how you can go from disorganised, unmotivated and distracted to flying through your most important tasks at lightning speed!
Because when you get good at this flow and flurry of productive work, you have more time in your day to chill and get to other things in your life.
Of course, this comes from someone who’s still a recovering workaholic, aha. But still, I’m an efficiency girl, and the time I do spend working, I want to be focused and productive in relation to my priorities and goals. Managing distraction is a huge part of achieving the kind of hyper-productivity I’m very well known for.
PREFER TO LISTEN?
Let’s set the scene: Most days you plop yourself down on the chair at your desk raring and ready to tackle the important tasks on your To Do List. Yes? … well on a good day 🙂
Hopefully if you’re doing work that’s important to you, you start the day inspired, excited and motivated – you have stuff to do and people to see. Maybe, you’re talking to a potential new client, creating new program content, or just diving into some research for a project you’re doing.
Maybe it’s a book you’ve been needing to read. Maybe it’s a book you’ve always wanted to write! Perhaps this week is all about mapping out your next months’ worth of thought-provoking content or writing a set of new relationship building emails for your subscribers.
And then, it happens. You get distracted!
Maybe you compulsively clicked over to Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn, and lost hours without even realising it.
Maybe you just needed to Google “one thing,” or “check that one email really quick” or “just reply that one DM”–only to come up for air three hours later, with your To Do List still very much untouched.Or maybe it wasn’t technology that led you astray. Maybe it was the dog having to pee (for the zillionth time), the kiddos craving (another) snack, the washer buzzing and signaling it’s time to hang the clothes out.
Or it’s the well-meaning (but highly distracting) Amazon delivery person dropping off the package you forgot you even ordered. Well, at least they drop it at the door, these days unlike the postman who always seems to want to hang around for a chat. And bit by bit, somehow, your entire afternoon is shot.
Either way, the outcome’s the same: You never got done what you truly wanted to get done. And you’re no closer to where you want to be today than you were six months ago–and it’s starting to eat you up, slowly but surely.
(Falling short of your goals is never fun.)
If you can relate, you’re in the right place. And? You’re far from alone.
Today’s episode is all about taking Distraction Action!
Kick Your Distractions to the Curb & Boost Business Productivity
We’re going to explore strategies for diminishing the daily distractions that cause us to lose focus on business tasks. As you know all too well, distractions hurt our business and our ability to grow or attract new clients. Without new clients, we have no business.
If you’ve been plagued by distractions, have no fear! You’re not alone and the strategies and tools we’ll discuss today are easy to implement. Take notes and get ready to take action.
Today, we’ll look at scheduling and environmental aspects that affect our ability to focus and avoid distractions. Then next time in part 2 we’ll move towards wrangling your email inbox and social media, and the tech tools that can help you leverage you time on those very common distraction monsters.
If you have NEVER been distracted during your workday, raise your hand. I’m talking about no household chores while getting your breakfast or coffee, no daydreaming about your vacation plans, no writing out your grocery list. If you are able to sit and concentrate solely on work in between your meal breaks, then you’ve got the magic and don’t need to be here!
As humans, we’re destined to have short attention spans. With the onslaught of technology, our brains and attention are drawn to millions of pieces of information each day. If anything, we all suffer from information overload, which makes focusing much harder.
Over the years parents have noticed this short attention span in their children. Teachers have noticed it in the classroom. Smartphones give kids instant gratification and constant connection – plus fun games. It’s no wonder parents complain about the difficulty of getting their kids unplugged. Internet addiction is a real thing for all of us.
One of the best depictions of being distracted occurred in the Disney/Pixar movie “Up”. One of the characters – Dug the Dog – is famous for holding a conversation and then midway through noticing a squirrel, which interrupts his speech and train of thought.
It’s comical in the movie and many joke about being this way in real life. But how does being distracted affect your life? If you’re distracted at work, it’s showing up in other places in your life. That’s worth exploring.
Start off by acknowledging your distractions and making a list. What do you face during your workday? I bet some of them will surprise you. Dig deeper than email or social media. We’ll definitely cover those; but think about all the little things that occupy your day. If you find you’re getting a late start to your day, how are you spending those early hours?
Are you scrolling on your phone? Catching up on last night’s favourite TV show? You might have this dubbed as “me time” which is certainly important, but is it impacting your productivity?
Are you able to grow your business and produce the content your audience is begging for and serving all your clients to the best of your abilities while accepting these distractions? If the answer is no, then you’re in the right place.
After you take this inventory of distractions, think about your why. WHY did you start your business? WHY did you become a coach? Sometimes our whys change and that’s OK. Reconnect with your WHY so you can refocus your energy on the big picture goals.
If you have a vision board, post it in a prominent place in your office or home. Save a copy as your screensaver or computer/phone wallpaper. If you prefer to journal, revisit some old entries to remember why you chose this path. You might uncover a nugget you forgot or a story that holds some importance in your decision making. No matter what answers you discover, reconnect with your WHY.
This process of rediscovering your why won’t eliminate your distractions altogether. In fact, some people believe your distractions will always remain. However, how you react to these distractions and the speed with which you can shift away from the distractions is the difference between reaching your goals and getting stuck in quicksand.
Committed action is what will propel you toward your goals and the strategies I’m sharing today are action steps you can implement fairly quickly.
We have a lot to get through so grab some paper for notes and let’s get started…
STEP #1 – Set a Rock-Solid Schedule For Your Deep Work & Slay Your Most Demanding Tasks
Procrastination is an avoidance technique that serves no purpose whatsoever in our lives. We get ourselves wrapped up in the difficulty of a task, or the duration, and then talk ourselves out of doing it. Intellectually, we know that task isn’t going away – especially if you’re a solopreneur – but it gives us a temporary feeling of relaxation.
However, procrastination ultimately leads to anxiety because when you’re behind on a deadline or missing client prep work or backing out of networking events, you’re creating unnecessary stress on yourself. This is completely avoidable if you learn how to prioritise your work.
I often find that I procrastinate on work that requires deep cognitive processing. If I feel tired or I’m not sure how to get into that task, I will put it off. Do you do that too?
Dr. Cal Newport defines “deep work” in his book of the same name as “focused, uninterrupted, undistracted” work on a task that pushes your cognitive abilities to their limit.
Depending on your business and priorities, your deep work will look different from someone else’s. But in general, deep work is the work that you need to move your business forward.
Deep work includes anything you’re creating, such as social media content, email newsletters, books/ebooks, new sales funnel content, etc., while shallow work will include anything that’s less cognitively demanding.
Shallow work consists of tasks others can do, like graphic design if you’re not a designer, and tasks that don’t create much value, like unnecessary meetings or fiddling around with some tech thing.
If you take an inventory of your daily tasks and you find your shallow work tasks outnumber your deep work, it’s time to outsource to a VA!
How do you get deep work done?
According to Newport, the answer lies in minimising distractions. He dubs distractions anything that you’d rather be doing than deep work. I’ll go a bit further and say distractions are an escape from your important work, which is pushing you out of your comfort zone.
In many cases, when you feel the desire to procrastinate, it’s because you’re on the cusp of personal growth. When that nervous energy builds up, especially when you’re trying something new, is when you must push through and take that leap of faith.
Think about this: How many times have you dreaded starting a project, only to find out it wasn’t as difficult or didn’t take as long as you expected it to? It’s often a surprise realisation where you question why you thought it would be so difficult or take so long? Where did that story come from?
I’ve learned over the years that these stories often have no basis in reality. They are made up by our ego, which is meant to keep us safe in our comfort zone. Think about how great it feels to realise that stretching wasn’t nearly as difficult as you expected!
I personally find that once I start on a project, I get into it. So now I focus on just making a start, and I know I’ll be fine and do a great job. And that’s now the story I tell myself.
Procrastination is the creator of many bad habits. Here’s a rhetorical question: What happens when you’d rather scroll aimlessly through your social media feeds instead of working on your latest course or when you’re looking at your phone notifications instead of prepping for your client calls?
Do you think your business will grow with procrastination and distractions? No, obviously. So, let’s conquer this problem once and for all!
Most of us simply try to use our will power to overcome distraction. However, Newport mentions in his book that we all have a limited amount of will power. When you start off with a finite amount of willpower, you’ll quickly deplete your supply if you’re constantly going back and forth between deep work and distractions.
As your day goes on, you’ll find it more difficult to avoid distractions and you’ll likely feel deflated at the end of the day, believing that you wasted too much time. Many people who fall into this way of thinking feel like they’re always trying to play “catch up” by adding the work they ‘should’ have done today to tomorrow’s to do list. As you can guess, this way of thinking and being is not sustainable.
Instead of playing catch up, let’s focus instead on putting perimeters in place that will help you get your work done and eliminate these distractions. One way to do this is to choose one of the “deep work” strategies, which Dr. Newport outlines in his book:
Monastic: Focus solely on deep work.
Cut shallow activities completely on these days and tell everyone – family, friends, peers – that you’re unavailable.
Bimodal: Choose a few consecutive days to work monastically.
Example: Deep work happens Mondays-Wednesdays, then you have general calls and meetings and other less deep tasks on Thursdays and Fridays.
Rhythmic: Do deep work daily.
Do 3-4 hours of Deep Work each day. Example: Blocking off your calendar from 8am-12pm, every day for deep work and saving shallow work for the afternoon hours.
Journalistic: Fit deep work in whenever possible.
This means, instead of scrolling social for 15 minutes you dive into your main project at the moment. Drawbacks to this strategy are that you have to be able to switch between shallow work and deep work on a dime.
Research says this is a skill you can build, and that the more experience you have, the easier this will be. This can be a good fit for those with shorter attention spans and who prefer to mix things up throughout the day.
Of course, these aren’t the only strategies for getting your work done. Here are a few other strategies to structure your days to get deep work completed:
- Give yourself finite limits. Parkinson’s Law states that “work will expand into the time allocated.” Setting finite limits for every task on your plate means you will limit procrastination and also banish burnout. For example, declaring that “I will finish this book outline in 3 hours” is useful because you’re working against the clock. Your brain recognises the time limit (provided it’s a reasonable one) and it will be easier to avoid distractions because of that limitation.
Similarly, if you know you want to end your workday at 3pm so you can focus on your kids after they get off the school bus, use that as impetus to avoid distractions. Prioritise your tasks and choose to start your day earlier so you can keep your word to yourself – and your family – to end on time.
- Create batch days. Group similar tasks together, such as taking all your calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and writing/planning social media content on Mondays. Choose a particular day for each ‘type’ of task and schedule shallow work around that schedule.
- Get to know yourself. It’s important you know how long you can realistically create or concentrate in a given day/week/quarter. If you know how long your tasks take you, you can even get super granular and create an hourly to-do list. At the end of the hour, aim to take a break and do something else for 5 minutes.
The Pomodoro Technique is formulated according to research about how most humans concentrate and suggests working in 25-minute bursts, followed by a 5-minute break. Try it out with a Chrome extension like Strict Workflow (which will also allow you to block certain websites) or just set a 25-minute timer on your phone. If 25 minutes feels too long, start with 10 minute “focus” sessions and then gradually increase the time. Take notes about how long you can focus on your deep work; figure out if you have different limits for different types of tasks, or during different “seasons” of the month/year/etc. Summer Fridays exist in the corporate world for a reason!
Once you’ve decided on a general philosophy for your approach to your unique deep work, schedule your deep work time and stick to it. This boundary setting is extremely important, especially if you want to grow your business. Scheduling deep work into your calendar – no matter what that looks like – minimises the need to use willpower to get things done. Humans have limited willpower, which is why we can’t rely on it completely.
The next factor to look at is what time of day you’re most productive. Not everyone is a morning person, so starting work with your morning coffee may not be your best move. Likewise, those who aren’t night owls will only be discouraged if they can’t concentrate when the kids are in bed. No matter what type of schedule you decide to use, be sure to schedule your work within your days during the times you’re most naturally productive.
Which scenario do you resonate with?
Number 1: Do you notice you tend to have lots of focus in the morning? Plan to do your deep work during your morning hours and save more shallow tasks for the afternoon when your energy dips.
Number 2: Do you need to ease into your day but thrive in the evening hours when the house is quiet? Schedule calls during the mid-late afternoon hours and save your creative energy for the night time.
There’s no right or wrong; it’s simply a matter of knowing yourself and giving yourself permission to create a schedule that suits your creativity.
STEP #2 – Curate a Distraction-Proof Environment That Makes “Getting It Done” a Breeze
Now that you’ve chosen a strategy and have created a schedule that works for you, it’s time to focus on the other things that might distract you. Environment plays a huge role in how focused or not-so-focused we are and many environmental distractions can be eliminated.
One of the biggest distractions is our smartphones. They’re remarkable pieces of technology but they also have a tremendous pull when we are trying to avoid doing something. Yes, they are often the direct line of communication to our family and friends but having it within arms’ reach can be dangerous.
At the very least, turn off your notifications so they don’t disturb you. I understand needing to have the phone ringer on if you have kids in school or an elderly parent, but you can also turn it off during your work zones and check for messages during your breaks.
If you feel the need to leave the ringer turned on, consider leaving the phone in another room. You’ll still hear the ringer for calls but you’ll be less tempted to pick it up during your focus times.
It’s a simple strategy but may be difficult for some since we’re so used to having our phones nearby. Practice this strategy daily and take note of how you feel by the end of the week. I’m guessing it will become easier and your anxiety about the phone will diminish rather quickly. Also take note of your productivity level.
Here are some other tips for creating an enriching environment for getting deep work done.
Create a designated space specifically for getting your deep work done.
An office is ideal – especially one with a door you can close – but choose anywhere in your home where you can concentrate. If possible, choose a second place for completing shallow work. For example, you may not perform creative tasks from the kitchen table, but you might respond to emails or skim social media. Or visit your favourite coffee shop for these shallow tasks.
Compartmentalising like this will create a strong association in your brain and you’ll automatically switch into either “deep” or “shallow” mode when in these particular areas.
Choose your background noise wisely.
What you hear while working actually does affect how easy it is for you to stay focused (or not). Music can either give you a boost or chill you out. You may discover that music itself is a distraction and that working in peace and quiet is ideal.
- If you’re someone who prefers some ambient noise, use a tool like Coffitivity to get that “cafe” ambiance even if you’re working from home.
- Music without lyrics tends to work well for many people and you’ll find quite the wide array of classical and contemporary instrumentals on Spotify or YouTube.
- Do a search for focusing music or binaural beats or lo-fi music designed specifically for work or focus or effortless learning. Meditation music specifically for work is another option that can calm your brain while enhancing your focus and creativity.
- If you prefer silence, consider purchasing noise-cancelling headphones to use in your favourite café or at home, especially if you have neighbours who manage to do their noisy garden hedge trimming or lawn mowing at inopportune moments.
Craft a ritual to trigger your work mode.
In addition to making these physical changes, craft a regular, go-to ritual that triggers your brain into “work mode.” Much like a morning ritual can set you up in a positive mood to conquer your day, this type of worktime ritual can psych you up to be productive. Whether it’s a pep talk or a dance party, these rituals will train your brain to shift gears into productivity. Make these rituals fun and unique for yourself.
Here’s three ideas to consider:
- Smell: Always light a specific candle or diffuse your favourite blend of essential oils. Have you ever heard that if you want to sell your home quickly, try baking chocolate chip cookies before an open house? There’s a whole psychology behind aromatherapy and it’s no surprise that certain scents can trigger productivity.
- Taste: Always drink the same type of tea or flavoured water. Soon your brain will recognise that THIS drink equals time to work.
- Touch/texture: Always put your hair up or wear a specific necklace. Always grab a specific crystal(s) to either look at or hold.
Going back to the phone for a moment: Have you told your family and friends your business hours? Setting business hours is important for both your clients and your family/friends. I know how tempting it is to get a call from your mom or your bestie during the day.
Even if you plan to say a quick hello and tell them you’ll call back, inevitably it turns into 30+ minutes which puts a crimp in your productivity. Set business hours and TELL your people that you’re unavailable to chat. Obviously, this doesn’t count in an emergency but it will certainly eliminate the need for them to call to ask a random question.
No matter what you choose to smell, taste, touch, or listen to, these rituals will help create a distraction-free productivity zone.
STEP #3 – Prep Your Space (And Your Brain) For Instant Brilliance
Do you perform regular brain dumps? If you’re unfamiliar with that term, let me elaborate.
A brain dump is the process of putting all the things swirling in your head onto paper.
Things you want to do, stuff you need from the grocery store, preparations you need to do for a holiday or party, appointments you need to schedule.
Every single detail that’s floating in that head of yours gets dumped onto the list.
Makes sense why it’s called a brain dump, right?
One colleague told me about a technique where he’d do a daily brain dump and then schedule all those things on his calendar. Even the one-minute phone call to schedule a dentist appointment was assigned a time, as was a trip to the dry cleaner or an online grocery order.
Biggest tasks – like outlining his next group coaching program – would get larger blocks of time across multiple days, but all the smaller tasks were scheduled for one day.
What’s the purpose, you ask? In general, a brain dump clears your head. Instead of waiting for the dentist office to open, you can focus on other things because you have “call dentist” written down; you’re not using up that brain space remembering what to do next.
The colleague who told me swears that with his brain dump strategy, he felt calmer and more productive after he got those smaller tasks complete.
Another client finds she could delegate certain smaller tasks to her assistant, thereby clearing even more time for her business-building tasks. When your mind is relaxed, you’ll find it easier to process information or to recall details necessary for completing your writing or coaching products.
Do a brain dump before you dive into deep work, whether that’s daily or just on the days you have creative time blocked off. If you don’t like the name brain dump – or you find that you have stronger, deeper feelings cluttering your mind – use Julia Cameron’s exercise called “Morning Pages.”
This exercise varies in that you’re writing whatever comes to mind, which may be more than a grocery store list. Morning Pages might include how you’re feeling about a family situation, an argument with a loved one, or the stress of sending a child off to college.
The idea here is to write longhand for three pages, unedited. If you go longer than three pages, wonderful; that means you’re getting in touch with your feelings and you’re clearing more from your brain.
From Julia’s website, “Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritise and synchronise the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
It might seem counterintuitive to spend time on such tasks; but it really works to clear your brain and open yourself up for higher productivity when you set to tasks that require deep focus.
Another thing that often distracts entrepreneurs is not having everything they need in one place when they sit down to get things done. Gather what you need ahead of time. Some people focus best when they have already prepped everything they need before their “Deep Work” time.
- Round up tools, supplies, apps (your planner or agenda, notebook, Google Drive or Dropbox, etc.)
- Self-care tools, like a full water bottle, your favourite brain-boosting essential oils, headphones, snacks, blue blocker glasses, etc.
- If you’re creating: Open any documents with notes, or websites or books you might need to reference. Before just trying to dive into a project, I find it really helps to create an outline or a short plan of attack. Use calendars for planning your social media posts and editorial efforts. Plan ahead so you’re never caught off guard with what to publish.
- Take care of anything that might interrupt you: Let the dog out so you don’t sit down to your desktop and immediately get interrupted by Mr. Snuggles. Don’t schedule any package deliveries (or Instacart orders) during business hours. Don’t put in a load of laundry (or if you do, plan it so it’s done when you’ll be done with your work–not before). Go to the bathroom.
If necessary, create a checklist of items to complete before your deep work begins and keep it on your office door. Yes, I know printing it out is very old school – but when you see it multiple times a day, you’ll get used to this new ritual and soon you won’t even reference it because it will become second nature.
I’ll leave it there for this episode, because that’s already a lot to get going with. But next time in part 2, I’ll be sharing some nifty tech tools with you that either myself or colleagues have found super useful to help wrangle your email and social media distractions.
And in part 2, I’ll also be sharing a workbook you can use to take you through all of this, along with a super helpful checklist so you can spot the distractions you need to stay on top of.