We’ve all been there. You sit down to work on a project and your mind is thinking about a number of other things. It may be upcoming meetings, a difficult discussion you just had, or what you’ll be doing this weekend. Whatever it is, you are not fully present and you need to be. Add to this the ever present distractions of phone calls (which happened to me while writing this article) or an email which just can’t be ignored.

Whatever the cause, distractions are huge time and productivity wasters. In fact, a study shows that being “always on”, having your email, phone or any number of other ways to be “available”, can actually inhibit your performance similar to missing a night’s sleep! On top of that, it can take up to 25 minutes to actually get back to working productively on your project.

So what can you do?

Your brain is wired to focus on things that are right in front of you. Instead of fighting against this, acknowledge it and set your environment to be productive. Here are a few ideas:

  • First, clear your mind before starting to work on a project. I remember hearing Dr. Mike Lillibridge state that when we move from project to project we need to “clean the brush”. He said, “You wouldn’t paint a room with three different colors without cleaning the brush between the application of each color.” In the same way you want to be fully present as you work. Write this reminder down and say it to yourself, “I want to be where I am when I am there.”
  • Second, set a start and stop time for your project work that is without interruption. During this project time make it a point to forgo checking email and set your cell phone to silent or vibrate. What you’ll discover is you will actually complete the project faster and you’ll produce much better work.  Another benefit is you’ll feel better too!
  • Third, when you find a distracting thought jumps into your consciousness, quickly evaluate it. Can it be ignored (like I wonder what is on the menu for lunch) or does it need to be acted on? If it does, write it down and plan to address it later. Otherwise, dismiss the distracting thought and stay focused.

Try one or more of these ideas as you work this week and let me know how they go. Would love to hear of your success!