top of page

Managing distractions and getting the big stuff done

This blog is one in a series designed to help you get better at time management and be more productive. It's based on my own experience and what's worked for many of my coaching clients.

If you think your main problem is that you are easily distracted and find it difficult to make progress on the big, important or more challenging tasks on your list, then that's what this blog is about.

How can you manage distractions and make some serious progress in the areas that are important to you?

The first thing to realise is that big, important or challenging tasks are probably the ones where we'll get distracted the most!

Because of the labels we give them in our minds, they're likely to be the ones where procrastination is virtually guaranteed to show up. Doing ANYTHING else will be more appealing than tackling these!

So here are a few top tips

  • Block out time in your diary

  • Minimise possible distractions

  • Plan first

  • Work in sprints

  • Change how you think to make what you have to do seem as simple, manageable and comfortable as possible!

Block out time in your diary

If you really want to make progress on your big, challenging or important tasks, you need to

  • block out time in your diary to work on them, and

  • guard that time!

Treat it with the same respect as you would an emergency dental appointment or a meeting with your boss or an important client.

Choose a time when you have the right sort of energy for the task.

For example, I'm a typical 'morning' person, so I block out time at the start of each day to tackle the big things I know I need to really think about.

Begin to notice how your energy changes through the day and which time of day would work best for you and the big things you need to think about and do.

Minimise possible distractions

If you do a quick scan of the internet, you'll see references to a number of studies that show that,

  • Multi-tasking isn't good for our brains and it impacts our ability to do any of those multiple tasks very well...which supports how frazzled most of us feel when we try.

  • It takes over 20 minutes to refocus after a distraction...which means the thing you've been distracted from is just going to take longer if you give in to distraction!

So we need to focus on one thing at a time and minimise all possible distractions.

Here are a few ideas on how you might do that

  • Consciously commit to choosing a task and giving it 100% of your attention as this will mean you'll do it better and quicker.

  • Remind yourself of this if your attention starts to wander to other things you need to do. Everything else should be on your to-do list and will get its opportunity for your attention, so just let it go for now.

  • If you've thought of something new, make a quick note of it just so you don't forget it and then bring your focus back to the task you've chosen to do right now.

  • Let people know that you're not available

  • Decide how you'll do this. For example, let everyone know that when you close your office door that means 'do not disturb', put something on your desk that means the same thing, register yourself as 'out of office' in the applications you use, make sure the time in your diary shows you as 'busy' etc.

  • Make sure you're happy with your reason for doing this. For example, "There's something important I need to focus on".

  • Make it easier to avoid the seductive distractions

  • Turn everything you don't need off, including your phone and other applications. You wouldn’t answer your phone if you were in an important meeting, so don’t do it when you’re focusing on something that needs to get done.

  • Turn off notifcations and any application badges/counters that indicate there's something to look at.

Plan first