Perhaps the one valuable skill I developed from being the eldest sibling is the ability to tune out noise and chaos. During my teen years, I had no choice, it was either tune out my noisy little sisters, or never get anything done. In addition to my little giggling sisters, the TV in the next room was always blaring — the volume maxed out as my brother energetically played air drums to the latest music video.
So I developed, what I call “the switch.” When things get too loud and chaotic, I’d hit the “tune-out switch” and return to focusing on my work. That worked well for a while, but something went awry along the way…
I was able to handle the external distractions, but I realized that I wasn’t as equipped to handle the new distractions that popped up on my computer. The very tool that I used to increase my productivity had presented a new set of distractions for which I hadn’t developed an immunity.
I began chasing after notifications like a dog that had just discovered its own fluffy tail. I’d set out to write and halfway into my first sentence…
Ding! “Such and Such just left a comment on your Facebook Post…” Wow! Let’s check it out!
Blip! “You have a new comment on your blog post…” Really? Already?
Chirp! “A-List Blogger just retweeted your tweet…” OMG!
Bing! “New message from the person you’ve been waiting to hear from all week…” What took them so long…?
Boop! “5 new email messages…” Ooh… pretty…
Suddenly, I developed ADD. I was all over the place, clicking from social network to blog, to Skype, etc. All the while the article I know I needed to finish was left to grow mold.
I didn’t realize how bad the problem had become until the end of one week arrived and I couldn’t submit the work that I had promised to a client. I knew I’d had adequate time. Previously, I’d finished projects like that in less time. Yet, that week, I’d left too many things undone.
In the freelance world, unfinished projects at the end of the week mean “no money.” But it was nobody’s fault but my own. So I had to do something to make sure that wouldn’t happen again.
Here are some strategies I use to keep those distractions from stealing my money:
1. Make writing (or other important tasks) the first thing you do.
Putting off writing is so easy to do. For some reason every other task suddenly becomes more appealing … dishes even look fun when you don’t feel like writing. But I’ve learned that I feel better and can enjoy the rest of my day more when I just tackle writing head-on.
2. Set a timer and don’t stop working until it goes off.
It helps me stay focused when I know I’ve got the timer working as my accountability partner. If I buckle down, I can knock out a first draft in 30 minutes, but if I let distractions in, that 30 minutes can turn into hours. With so many projects and other things going on, I don’t have time to waste and using a timer makes me more aware of my precious work time.
3. Turn everything off, including notifications and cell phones.
TV – this means you! Even music can be distracting — so while you’re writing, turn it all off! As much as I love technology and how cute those little notifications look and sound, I’ve had to opt out. And guess what? I haven’t missed out on anything important like I thought I would. The news feed was still there after I finished my work!
4. Respond to email only at designated times of the day – wait after at least an hour of work.
I used to make answering emails the first thing I did for the day. But, that was before my inbox started filling up with hundreds of emails a day. At first, I didn’t notice how many hours I was spending just responding to emails until one day, I looked up five hours later — and I hadn’t accomplished any of my goals. Some of those emails weren’t even all that pressing, but they felt like it at the time. I’ve discovered that I get more done when I wait to check emails at designated times.
5. Close your internet browser.
It’s easy to get distracted when everything is right there at your fingertips. There’s so many wonderful things on the internet to grab your attention: breaking entertainment news, fun polls, contests, games — everything that seems like it can’t wait. It felt like I had to click it right then before it disappeared forever! I’ve found that I have to completely close my browser to avoid the temptation of doing things that take away from my productivity. If you must log on to research something, try opening only one tab at time.
6. Make logging in and responding to social media a reward for finished work.
Who hasn’t stepped into the social media time warp? Where one innocent picture can turn into hours of jumping down rabbit holes, drinking potions, watching videos and getting absolutely nothing done — then suddenly waking up 16 hours and one ruptured bladder later.
It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone — time had passed so imperceptibly. I’ve learned that it’s best not to even log in to Facebook or Twitter until I’ve finished my work — otherwise it won’t get finished.
7. Work when everyone else is asleep.
I’m a night-writer — no I don’t drive a car named Kit — I like to write at night. I’m not a morning person, and so I get my best ideas late in the evening. I prefer to start my projects in the evening after everyone has gone to bed. If you’re a morning person, this is the equivalent of getting up earlier than everyone else. You’d be surprised how much you can get done during this period of total silence.
These are just a few things that can help you tackle those distractions that you may not realize are eating up a major portion of your productivity. Obviously, everyone’s situation is different, but most people aren’t even aware of how distracting cell phones, TVs, notifications, and the lure of the internet can be. With so much information being thrusted in our direction 24/7, it’s important to consciously regulate when and how much time you spend doing things that could potentially soak up all of your precious work time.
Kiesha Easley is the owner of WeBlogBetter, a blog that offers writing, social media and blog tips. She’s recently published a blogging guide, 10 Week Gameplan for a Top 100k Blog. Follow her on Twitter @WeBlogBetter or Facebook.