Declaring War On Distractions And Lost Productivity

Ever had that feeling when you get to the end of a day and realized you haven't really accomplished anything? You went into it with the best of intentions. You had a mighty to-do list, and you told yourself, "Hello new day. Prepare to be pwned." You have that cup of coffee and you set out on your quest of efficiency. Several tweets, wall updates, blog comments and emails later - it is lunch time. Well.... I guess that was work. But, I'll get the REAL work done after lunch. Yeah...

Ever had that feeling when you get to the end of a day and realized you haven’t really accomplished anything?

You went into it with the best of intentions. You had a mighty to-do list, and you told yourself, “Hello new day. Prepare to be pwned.” You have that cup of coffee and you set out on your quest of efficiency.

Several tweets, wall updates, blog comments and emails later – it is lunch time. Well…. I guess that was work. But, I’ll get the REAL work done after lunch. Yeah…

Later, you sit down to write that blog post. A couple paragraphs in, you end up on somebody else’s blog. You like this post, so you comment. Then, you get an idea and you spend a little time dreaming and jotting down ideas. Then – back to the blog post. Then, your side vision catches that Twitter column refresh. You look and – wow, that link looks interesting! So, you click.

And so it goes. The day comes to an end. You might have written a blog post or two. You might have made a few lists, telling yourself that making a list was the same as work. But, then the overwhelming weight of reality sets in…

None of what you did that day will make you any money.

My War On Distractions

If you think I began writing this post today as a means of teaching you something I’ve figured out, think again. I deal with the above scenario all too often. Each time, I give myself a mental slap and vow to do better the next day. But, I’m tired of reaching the end of a work week with that nagging feeling that I haven’t accomplished enough.

So, I need to renew my war on distractions.

In this post, I’m going to offer my advice to you. As I do it, I’m also reminding myself. Funny how that works… πŸ™‚

I’m going to address the major sources of distraction for bloggers. And they are…

Social Media

Twitter and Facebook have very legitimate uses. They also happen to be huge vacuums for our time and attention.

Twitter is a huge platform of people yelling into the crowd. We assume everybody is paying attention to us when we tweet, but in reality very few are. Most aren’t paying any attention, and even those who are are too busy going cross-eyed because of the blinding speed of it all. So, you might get 50-100 clicks on a link to 10,000 followers. Worth it? Hmmm…. pretty crappy open rate when you compare it to email.

But, let’s assume you just decide to take control over it. You keep Tweetdeck out of view and you just check it every so often. Still, every time you check it, you are inviting potential time vacuums. Or perhaps you feel this little draw to it because you’re wondering what people are up to… and even that little bit of stuck attention is keeping you from full focus on what you’re doing.

Perhaps you put your social media onto a side monitor, and not in your primary workspace. Fine, but then the Tweetdeck column refreshes and you see it in your peripheral vision. And, you feel compelled to check it out.

Or you’re out with your family, where you’re SUPPOSED to be enjoying THEM and living your life… but you feel compelled to check Twitter and tell people what you’re doing. So, basically, a little part of you is constantly thinking that your followers GIVE A SHIT. And, hell, maybe they do. But, your family – your LIFE – is probably more important, right? Worse yet, you’ve turned your own life into a spectator sport, constantly dissecting your life for tidbits that are “tweetworthy” – rather than just living.

And don’t get me started on Facebook. That site is engineered with a specific purpose – to keep you there once you enter it.

So, you might think that, after all this, I’m pretty down on social media. Not at all! However, I think we all need to keep it in perspective. With the way some of us use it, it ends up being a cancer on our mental focus. In the end, it is probably the single biggest source of ADD for bloggers. No wonder some of the most successful people in this world don’t mess around with Twitter!

My advice? Turn it off and enforce a strict discipline on yourself to only check it at certain times of the day, with a timer to make sure you stop after a certain block of time goes by (perhaps 15 minutes). Perhaps explore using Hootsuite, where you can easily schedule tweets. Don’t make it fake, where you act like you’re there and you really aren’t. But, if a lot of what you do on Twitter is tweet out cool blog posts you’ve found, then just schedule them. So, you spend 15-30 minutes reading your RSS reader and scheduling tweets to your favorites – then you MOVE ON. Not any different than when you queue blog posts in Wordpress.

And when you’re supposed to be actually accomplishing something – CLOSE all social media sites and programs. Don’t minimize them or move them to another screen – CLOSE THEM.

Email

Like social media, the purposes of email are plainly obvious and extremely useful. That said, you can also become a mental slave to it.

Most people will check email constantly. If you see that little “(1)” next to your inbox, or hear that little chime when an email arrives, you feel compelled to go check it. Whatever you were doing right then, you stop. Your attention is scattered. And when you finally return to what you were doing, it takes you some time to get back into the groove again. Do this over and over, and you NEVER arrive in that groove in the first place. You’re constantly scattered. You spin your wheels and nothing happens.

Email is important, in most cases, dealing with email is not the same thing as production. It is maintenance.

Like social media, email should be relegated to time slots and not touched in between.

Funny thing, as I wrote those very words, I noticed I had Gmail open. Shame on me! So, I closed the email tab of my browser while I’m writing this post. Because I KNOW that, were I to get an email right then, my eyes would have gone to see who it was. And, for that little moment of time, I stopped writing this very post.

I can tell you from experience, though, that this is a KEY point when it comes to increasing your writing speed and making sure blog posts don’t take hours to write. You’ve got to get into that mental groove and just let the words flow. And that means cutting off all sources of distraction.

Instant Messaging

Some people have it worse than others, but instant messaging can be pretty bad. Think about it… you are giving anybody on your buddy list the means to proactively interrrupt you with a window on your screen – any time THEY want. Excuse me? I mean, nothing personal – people wouldn’t be on my contact list if I didn’t care about them, but that doesn’t mean I want them popping windows in my face when I’m trying to work.

In my view, any communication system we set up is not being managed correctly if we’re not in control over when that communication arrives in our heads. This is why I don’t like phones. It can interrupt you whenever somebody ELSE wants to. I switched to Google Voice so I could control that.

Well, instant messaging is the same way. Plus, we’ve probably all experienced IM spam. It seems to come in waves on Skype, where people can just pop windows on my screen because they feel as if I should check out their great rack. Hmmm…..

How you choose to manage instant messaging is up to you. Luckily for me, most of my contacts are in the same boat as I am, so we don’t interrupt each other all that often. But, whenever I feel as if it might be a distraction, I sign off of instant messaging networks. And, I always make sure that I get NO notifications when people come online or go offline. I simply don’t need to know.

Other Blogs

As bloggers, we feel the need to keep up with other bloggers. Plus, it is interesting. That said…. you can’t eat and talk at the same time. Same goes for reading blogs.

I find it sometimes amazing when I see some of my fellow bloggers tweeting links to cool posts throughout the day. Unless they pre-scheduled those things, that means that they were not only reading another blog rather than working, but they were on social media. Double whammy against productivity.

Surely, I cannot recommend not to read other blogs. It is important to do it, to a point. I can tell you that I probably read other people’s blogs less than the average blogger. But, of course, I make more money than the average blogger, so I’ll leave you to decide if there might be a correlation.

Having a device like an iPad also helps me. On it, I can check up on others’ blogs when I am in a different mode. In other words, I’m not working. So, I will scan my RSS reader perhaps while I’m in bed at night, but not while I’m sitting at my desk during work time.

If you don’t have an iPad, that’s fine. Just impose some discipline. If you want to be productive during your work time, you shouldn’t be reading people’s blogs. That’s not work. It is fake work.

Your Work Environment

Your immediate physical environment also has a lot to do with your effeciency. It can also be a challenging thing to manage, especially if you have kids as I do.

In my case, I simply do the best I can to keep the kids away from my office. My kids are young and loud, so we do what we can. If it gets too bad, I’ll need to leave the house and work. I might explore getting an outside office, or perhaps just set up shop at a local coffee shop.

I also keep my office clean. I dust and vacuum once per week. I remove all the loose ends from my desk. I like to begin every week with a clean slate.

Declare War

There is a lot more that goes into personal effeciency than what I’ve talked about today. It is one thing to remove the negatives, but it is another to introduce the systems to guide all that mental focus you will have at your disposal once you’ve stopped the distractions from preying on it.

But, we’ve got to start somewhere. As bloggers, we are more prone to attention deficit than many others. Our eyes are constantly darting around to many things at once, all of which are listed above. No wonder so many bloggers feel like they’re spinning their wheels and not getting anywhere!

Personally, I’m declaring war. I’ll still be doing social media, email, IM and other blogs, but it’ll be controlled.

Because dicking around with Twitter doesn’t serve you, my audience. And, as a result, it doesn’t serve my family very well. We need the bills paid, and my kids like to eat…. and tweeting doesn’t do that. πŸ™‚

So, here’s what I’d like you to do…

I’d like you to post a comment, and let me know what things YOU can do better at to remove unnecessary distractions. What can you do to be more productive? And, what tips do you have for others in the community to help them?

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Responses

  1. Great post David, when I read your post it sounds funny but reality bites it really happens for real. I believe that there is one thing that can help a person to avoid distractions at work easily and it is self discipline. Without discipline you can’t really focus on your tasks now matter how you struggle to focus you can still be distracted. I would say that you can really avoid distractions without discipline but for how long you can manage it. There are also useful tools that can helps you avoid distractions while working like blocking unrelated website for a period of time this way you can focus on task. You can also make it as a motivation; you can use social media or any unrelated to work website as long as you finish all your tasks first or you can use it after work. There are different ways that can help you avoid distractions at work.

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