If you closed the biggest contract of your career tomorrow, would you be able to handle it?
As a business owner, your life is being dominated by distractions that keep you from being as productive as you can be.
There’s always that temptation to check your email yet again, take another meeting, retweet another article, check Facebook for the hundredth time, and (if you work from home) waste another hour binging on Netflix.
But these distractions reduce the hours in the day that you can accomplish meaningful work, and can prevent you from taking on the clients you really want.
Figuring out where distractions are coming from and how to correct bad habits is essential to helping you grow.
Here’s what you need to know…
Look for the Source
The worst thing about distractions is that we absolutely love them.
Jodi Chapman at Lifehack calls it the “allure of distraction”:
“We are all experts at putting up distractions so that we will rarely (if ever) have to face this uncomfortable feeling that I am facing right now. There is something so real and so vulnerable about simply being, isn’t there? It’s like standing in the middle of a crowded room completely naked […] Without the distractions of TV, internet, phones, games, our job, the outside world – there’s no buffer between us and the questions we try so hard to avoid.”
According to Chapman, by avoiding the source of our distractions, we create a happiness ceiling that prevents us from succeeding. No matter how many gadgets we have or games we play, we’ll never really be fulfilled.
That’s why getting to the root of your distractions is so important. If you don’t know why you can’t get work done, you won’t actually change the habits you need to change.
Are you losing focus because you’re working at the wrong time of day for your sleep cycle? Or are you distracted because you’re afraid your work doesn’t give you enough meaning so you procrastinate?
Are you working on the wrong projects? Or do you just have a heavy workload and need to learn to say no? Or are you genuinely addicted to your phone, or to social media, or to your TV?
If you can take the time to self-reflect and pinpoint the reason behind your addiction to distraction, the remedy will be easier to apply.
Break Up Your Workload
Another element that keeps us distracted is what David Rock, author ofYour Brain at Work, calls the "epidemic of overwhelm":
“People everywhere seem to be experiencing an epidemic of overwhelm at work. I believe it's a function of two things. Firstly it's the amount of information we now process, which our brain may not be used to […] Secondly, we have all these new technologies which are very good at distracting us, which our human habits have not caught up to.”
Thanks to the Web and technology, we have access to the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips. While this is certainly amazing, it’s also problematic when it comes to overwhelm.
For example, you may find yourself in a situation where a client is demanding more of you than you’re mentally able to give. There’s technology now that will automate tasks, help you problem solve, and even do some of your work for you.
Because of this, we’re often given projects and tasks that feel impossible mentally, which only leads to more overwhelm, which only exacerbates the problem.
In order to overcome this, Stephen Covey, author of the famous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, recommends breaking up these impossible tasks into smaller, more manageable ones, writing down each part of the project that needs to accomplished, and then starting with the easiest one.
Skip the Multitasking
Another habit that you might find yourself engaging in that hurts productivity and promotes distractions is multitasking.
The American Psychological Association breaks multitasking down into three categories:
- Traditional - Trying to do two things at the same time, like watching Netflix while working
- Rapid Task Switching - Jumping quickly from one task to another
- Interrupted Task Switching - Switching from task to task without completing any of them
Rapid Task Switching tends to be the most frequent form of multitasking, though according to some studies it can cause up to a 40% loss in daily productivity.
The key to productivity and reducing distractions, therefore, is to not multitask. As in, you should be focusing on one task at a time, and preferably for a short period of time.
There are many solopreneurs out there who will tell you about the importance of taking breaks throughout your workday. Merlin Mann, founder of 43 Folders, works in 10-minute intervals, taking a two-minute break in between each one.
In the Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo, you work for 25 minutes, and then take a five-minute break.
There are other similar techniques like the "Power Hour", which requires finding one hour each day to focus entirely on a task that you’ve been neglecting. No phone calls, no emails, no distractions.
But whichever method you choose, the idea is to create intentional breaks for yourself to focus and de-focus from the task at hand.
If you’re intentional about your times of rest, where you can check email or jump on social media, you will be less likely to become distracted in the middle of an important project when you need your mind functioning at full speed.
Take Care of Yourself
While many distractions come from mental or emotional sources, like job dissatisfaction or poor working habits, they can also come from physical sources.
You may be distracted because you’re not sleeping, exercising, or eating healthy foods.
Lack of sleep, for instance, can cause short and long-term memory loss, brain fog, racing thoughts, and concentration problems. Some studies have found that sleep deprivation can lower white matter in the brain and even affect your I.Q.
Nutrient deficiencies can result in depression, apathy, fatigue, poor sleep, and poor concentration. Lack of exercise can increase stress and lower your immune system responses. Even something simple like dehydration or hunger can ruin your workday.
Basically, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re more prone to distractions and your productivity will suffer.
Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits all solution for maintaining optimal health. You will have to determine what works for your body and lifestyle.
But the important thing to remember is that you are your business, and if your body can’t get out of bed to get the job done, your business won’t grow.
As P.T. Barnum says, “The foundation of success in life is good health: that is the substratum fortune; it is also the basis of happiness. A person cannot accumulate a fortune very well when he is sick.”
Distractions can happen for any number of reasons, be they mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical. While the occasional break is completely acceptable (if not encouraged), frequent distractions can hinder productivity and prevent you from getting the work you want.
Your first objective will be to identify the source of your distraction. Take time to reflect on job satisfaction, or your own feelings about a client or project you’re having trouble with to see if the problem is with your motivation.
If everything looks good on that front, you may need to adjust your work habits. Forget about multitasking and instead focus on one project at a time, giving yourself enough concentrated effort (mixed with breaks) to get things done.
And finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Get some sleep. Eat an apple. Laugh a little. The better you feel physically, the better your brain will function, and the less likely you will be to space out in the middle of an important task.