How to minimize the impact of 5 common distractions

We all want to get our work done, but sometimes it seems that there are so many distractions that it is almost impossible to be productive. Those times where you reflect at the end of the day and remember that you were busy, but feel like you haven’t really accomplished anything are the days that were probably full of distractions.

The key to remaining productive is to not let distractions sidetrack you from your primary job. Here are a few tips for taking charge of your day and kicking a few of the most common distractions to the curb.

  1. Social media. Turn it off when you need to focus. Seriously. Shut down your Twitter client and log out of Facebook and other services for at least part of the day when you really need to focus on your work. If you can’t turn them off, you can still disable notifications so that you aren’t having them pop into view constantly. This doesn’t mean that you can’t check social media while you work, but you can minimize the impact by only checking in periodically. Maybe you look at Twitter and Facebook once per hour, or when you finish one task and are moving to the next. But really, if you are checking Twitter every few minutes, are you really going to get as much work done as you would if you weren’t checking it?
  2. Visitors. Whether you work in an office or at home, people will drop in and distract you. I’ll admit it, I often listen to music or put my headphones in just to signal to people that I am not available. If people see that you have headphones in, they will at least think twice about bothering you. Leaving your phone headset on can also work. You might try “do not disturb” signs or shutting your office door, if you are lucky enough to have one. I’ve even had pretty good luck with hiding and working in a super secret location until I finished a piece of work that needed focused concentration.
  3. Unnecessary or unproductive meetings. I’m a big fan of not attending meetings that aren’t valuable in some way. Now, this probably doesn’t mean that you can blow off your manager’s staff meeting or important meetings with clients, but you can probably skip a few meetings. I’ll often look at the agenda for a meeting, and if there isn’t anything particularly relevant for me, I’ll send the organizer an email to let them know that I won’t be attending. On the flip side, you should be considerate when scheduling your own meetings. Cancel them if you don’t have anything important for the meeting, and always send an agenda in advance to let people know whether or not they need to attend.
  4. Email. Most of us get more email than what we can possibly read anyway, and it just keeps coming in! You could probably spend all day just responding to email, but then you would never get any work done. The first thing to do is turn off any pop-up notifications that you get every time someone sends you an email. Next, set up some filters and color code email from important people to help you notice the ones you care about while ignoring the rest. Now, the hard part. You have to actually ignore your email and focus on other work without that distraction. You can occasionally glance at your email on a regular schedule or between tasks and look for anything critical. If it’s not critical, ignore it for a bit until you are ready to spend a little chunk of time focused on doing email.
  5. Instant messages. For really serious work, you might think about logging completely out of your instant messaging client. For most of us, we can use custom status messages to signal to people how urgent their request should be before they interrupt you. I recently set my status to “cranky, interrupt at your own risk”, and I don’t think I had a single IM during that time. I also use the generic, “busy – priority interrupts only” status, and you can get pretty creative with these to let people know that they really should think twice about interrupting. It is also perfectly acceptable to not respond immediately to an IM. If a friend or co-worker sends you a message on a topic that isn’t going to be critical, ignore it until you get to a good stopping point or when you are ready to take a break and respond when it makes sense for you.
What are your favorite tips for minimizing distractions and other time wasters?