What is your biggest distraction? Is it the phone, email, social media, constant interruptions from others? Managing and minimizing distractions are key elements of time management and staying organized. Whether you are trying to focus on a project at work or complete a task at home, constant distractions slow us down significantly. Are you familiar with the term “activation energy”? Activation energy is the minimum amount of energy that must be available for a chemical reaction to occur. The principal is the same for the energy needed to get a project completed. To start a project, we need a certain amount of “energy” but once we get started, it is much easier to continue to completion. It’s the stopping and restarting continuously that slows our progress and expands our timeline. So how do I minimize distractions to keep my activation energy going?
“Do not disturb”
To keep focused on a project or task, you need to minimize your distractions by employing a “do not disturb” mentality. Set the timer on your phone for a reasonable length of time – 60 or 90 minutes. Then one by one, shut off or down those distractions. Turn the ringer off on your phone or set to “do not disturb” – don’t worry, the timer alarm will still go off. Minimize the taskbar which shows that a new email has come in. Place your phone upside down so you won’t see texts or notifications coming in. Are you concerned you might miss an “urgent” message? Set your phone to alarm after 20 or 30 minutes for a quick peek to be sure there is nothing that warrants your immediate attention. Are you in open office space and can’t close your door for a short period of time to work? Move into a conference room or put on earbuds to block out distractions.
You will be more productive and less stressed when you manage your time and distractions. Figure out what solutions work best for you to filter out your distractions and keep your activation energy going.
I’ll just check Facebook//Instagram/Pinterest for a minute…
Social media, in all of its manifestations, is a daily part of our lives. For anyone in marketing, sales or communications, it is a necessary evil. For the rest of us, social media can be a fun distraction, a communication tool and definitely a “time suck” which drains our time and productivity. Have you ever said “I’ll just check Facebook for 5 minutes” and you look up from the screen and an hour has gone by without your even noticing? Social media, for all its useful applications, is absolutely a rabbit hole that we all tend to fall into. In the workplace, the stakes and costs are even higher. Studies have shown a 13% loss in productivity in the workplace due to social media use which costs the economy billions each year. So how do I keep social media from being a time and productivity suck?
Put yourself on a social media “diet”
The Greek poet Hesiod urged “moderation in all things”. For all of us, social media must be limited if you want to remain productive and on schedule. Too much of anything is not healthy so put yourself on a “diet” of social media. Set a timer on your phone and when the timer goes off, get off social media. If you are truly on social media for work, write some bullet points on what you are doing and stick to your outline. Resist the temptation to click on interesting links or check out what others are doing and saying online. Like resisting cupcakes is good for your waistline, resisting checking out our friends’ feeds is good for your productivity.
Turn off social media notifications on your phone to keep from logging on all the time. Like Pavlov’s dog, we hear that little “ding” and think this is something we must check out immediately. Instead, set a time each day to go through your social media feeds and engage online. A couple of hours is not going to make a difference in liking a friend’s photo.
In this day and age, who doesn’t have an overloaded inbox? Even when we have a personal email (or two or three) and a work email, it’s easy to get overloaded. Here are some tips to declutter your inbox.
- Create Folders so you can file away emails to quickly find them in the future. Related to Suzy’s soccer? Just drag anything into the folder and you can always go back and reference the schedule at another time.
- Unsubscribe to email newsletters you signed up with good intentions but that’s not getting the information read. Unsubscribe if you know you can’t prioritize this.
- Create a rule. You can designate a particular folder for certain emails to be downloaded to vs. the inbox. Want anything related to shopping to go into a particular folder? Create a rule so it doesn’t clutter your inbox and your really important emails don’t get lost.
- Don’t just delete, unsubscribe. Yes, it’s quicker just to delete but if you scroll to the bottom of those pesky marketing emails, you’ll see the “unsubscribe” button. Take 5 minutes a day to unsubscribe online and stop unwanted and unneeded emails from arriving in the first place.
- Delete unneeded file folders. Did you create an email file folder for Sam’s 4th grade class info? Great. But now he’s heading to high school so it’s time to delete that folder….
Why you need to write it down
Have you ever tried to get through a busy day and remember all the tasks and projects you need to complete? For most of us, the answer is a resounding “yes”. So how successful were you in getting everything done in a timely and efficient manner? Sadly, most of us will answer “no” to that question. The reality is that it is extremely difficult to remember all the tasks and responsibilities we need to manage. To be more efficient, you need to write it down. The task of writing in itself creates muscle memory and reinforces the reminder. Typing or using an electronic device works too if you are without paper and pen but studies show this is less effective. So, why do you need to write it down? Firstly, when you write down your tasks and projects, you jog your memory to complete the task. Secondly, and as important, you create a visual reminder that can be incorporated into your schedule.
Sticky notes everywhere
As an organizer, I work with clients to create systems and solutions to find more space, more time and more joy in their lives. For some clients, a PDA or smartphone is a must for everything from grocery lists to work tasks. Written lists, sometimes scratched on the back of junk mail, do the trick for others. I have a “special” notepad in my kitchen and legal pads in my office to write down reminders. Whatever works for you works for you. For visual learners especially, a written note has significant impact. I like the kitchen and office as my command points. Where are your strategic areas for notes? Another great visual reminder is the sticky note, again in a strategic place. Because we are creatures of habit, putting a sticky note where we cannot fail to see it is a visual reminder that might represent a change in routine or reinforces a new habit.
When you write down a reminder or task, you create a visual system that is a trigger for action. Notes, lists and sticky notes organize us and make us more efficient.
What’s the difference between important vs.urgent?
As an organizer I help my clients find more space, more time and more joy in their lives. Learning better time management skills and determining what is an important vs. urgent task is a great first step. Most people use the terms important and urgent interchangeably but there are subtle and important differences. So, what is the difference between important vs. urgent tasks in time management? If a task is urgent to you, complete it immediately. Urgent tasks are safety and health related so don’t delay on doing these right away. If task has a time and date deadline – i.e. you have to sign up for a class by 5:00 pm on the 1st or you will incur late fees, do the task immediately. If a task has a near deadline or involves health and safety, do it now. But aren’t important tasks urgent too?
Getting important tasks done
Do you have a to-do list? If so – and I hope you do! – you likely have lots of tasks that you need to complete. Your friend’s birthday is next month and you want to send a card. Great, get it done but don’t interrupt the project your working on to complete that task. Do you need to follow up on upcoming summer vacation plans? Add it to the “to do” list for later but keep working on the report that has to be completed by end of day. You have lots of important tasks to complete so build time into your schedule so they don’t become urgent crises. I work on certain tasks early in the morning when I have uninterrupted time before the “workday” starts and the phone starts ringing. Can you use that uninterrupted time to complete important tasks – expense reports, updating billing, balancing your checkbook – when the day is quiet?
Good time management skills keep most important tasks from becoming urgent tasks. Time is a limited commodity and we have to use it wisely in order to accomplish more and have more time for the people and things we love.
Touch it twice rule
Have you heard of the “touch it twice rule”? In essence, it means that you touch an item or project only twice – do it and be done. Complete a task right away or deal with an email or paperwork. By doing this, You eliminate the need to go back and complete the task at another point. Don’t “touch it” more than twice and elongate the process. You won’t always have time to complete a task so put it on the “to do list” and plan an appropriate length of time to complete the project. Don’t let items sit out waiting to be put away – put them away immediately. You will only have to touch it twice and not move the bags and items around continually. This rule can be applied to multiple tasks – laundry, mail and paperwork sorting, etc. Choose an item, complete the task associated with the item and then either put it away or purge it. Don’t pick it up, move it to a new spot, half complete the task and then start the task again at another time. Touch it twice and be done with it.
Why good enough really is good enough
The enemy of organization and efficiency is perfection. We have a notion that we have to do everything “perfectly” but that is self-defeating. Doing laundry, putting away groceries, picking a gift, making a meal, completing most projects – this is when good enough really is good enough. Every meal is not going to be a four course masterpiece, every wall paint color is not going to be show home worthy. The point is that we understand when good enough really is good enough and perfection is not needed.
We waste time trying to make the best, the perfect and the optimal choice so that we rarely get anything done. Focus on doing some things perfectly – taxes, your work, your finances – that’s where it’s important. For most tasks, do it once and be done is the perfect way to get organized and find more time.