Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Time to Get Serious About Eliminating Distractions on the Job

The directive is pretty clear from the employment world in these tough economic times: "Remain relevant." But the unspoken addition is this: "Or you could be out on your ear."

Right now, it's critical that you become more focused than ever on your job and your employer. That means the first thing you've got to do is cut down on distractions. Because if you're distracted, you're not as productive, as creative or as critical to your company. While we all know we should turn off the e-mail and check only every couple of hours, there are other distractions that we are less inclined to eliminate.

It's time to get serious. Things are scary out there, and no one can afford to perform at less than 100 percent. It's time to get real, and get tough. Let's talk about some ways that you need to kick your own butt into gear:

* Stop socializing online. I know this is going to get some heat from some people, but I think it's gotten out of control. Right now, we all need time to let our minds relax and recharge by going to a local park with our family or friends or reading something enjoyable. I know one person who recently decided to stop using Facebook. He told me it was something he had been thinking about for a long time, but this week he was brutally honest with himself and said he knew his work was suffering because of the constant distraction of keeping up with his Facebook page and the "social" aspect of it was just too stressful. Here's an interesting aside: Facebook didn't want to make it easy to end the addiction. It asked him the reasons for leaving, and each time he clicked on an answer, a solution popped up. Harden your resolve and step away from MySpace, Twitter and Friendster. If you can't go cold turkey, eliminate all but one or two sites, and never check it at work, unless these sites are part of your job description.

And your personal blog? Think about taking a break. I find many people who started blogs now believe they're nothing more than burden -- just one more task they have to take care of. It's really OK if you decide to take a break or stop altogether -- it it your blog, after all.
If you're not sure how much time you're spending on your social network site, get an old-fashioned timer and set it for 30 minutes. Every time you have to reset it, mark it down. I did this, and was stunned to see that an hour had gone by -- it seemed like I'd only been on it for 15 minutes.

* Quit texting: "Where R U?" may seem innocent enough, but it's the first salvo in a time suck that will have you texting yourself right out of a job. Turn off your personal cell phone or Blackberry and only check on your lunch hour for emergency messages. Ignore everything else until after work.

* Do something monotonous. I came up with my book idea while blow drying my hair. Another friend came up with a great marketing idea while taking a shower. Stop trying to entertain yourself all the time, such as listening to a podcast while working out, or watching YouTube on your laptop while waiting in a airport. Let yourself get bored -- you'll be amazed at how it will turn on your brain and get you thinking more creatively and freely. (I get some of my best column ideas while doing laundry or driving.) It's those creative thoughts that are going to make you stand out at work, to help you remain relevant to your boss.

* Be selective with your information input. The Internet is wonderful because it offers us 24/7 information. The Internet is terrible because it offers us 24/7 information. With the financial mess and the upcoming election, it's tempting to check CNN every 10 minutes. Don't. It won't do your job any good to focus too much on things beyond your control right now. Get your news fix before and after work, either in print or on air, then move onto something else.

* Keep moving. Yeah, exercise is good for you, but moving feet are also a good idea at work. Don't stop to chat in the bathroom, around the coffee pot or anywhere else that seems to be a "bulls**t zone." Just keep moving with a friendly wave and a "I've got a deadline" comment.

What are some ways you've found to cut down on distractions?


Robert Hruzek said...

*Do something monotonous...

Y'know, this one's a fairly standard device in any movie or TV show featuring parents with kids. Two mothers at the playground whip out their Day-Timers and try to find an empty hour when they can meet for coffee, and find their days are completely filled with music lessons, dance lessons, oboe lessons...

But is it true? Have we trained our children that they MUST be occupied 100% of the time or else?

I must admit to hating to sit around with nothing to do, preferring a good book over almost anything else. But there's a great deal of wisdom in your suggestion, and I for one am going to try it more often.

Thanks for the thought-tickler, Anita!

Anita said...

I do think it's a problem, as I have kids and see their friends rushing to soccer practice while still in their wrestling clothes and then on to guitar lessons after that. Exhausts me just watching them.
What would be so bad -- for any of us -- just to stare out the window? When did that become so horrible? I, myself, struggle not to feel guilty for doing nothing, but you know what? I've had some of my best revelations about myself and my life and my work when doing not a darn thing.
I hope to see you staring into space more in the future!
Thanks for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

A great way to rid yourself of distractions is to volunteer for so many new projects that you simply don't have time to be distracted!

Anita said...

I'll bet your boss loves your enthusiasm! The only thing: Would volunteering for a lot of stuff hurt you or help you in the long run? I worry that people these days don't have enough "down" time...time to just "think" as Bob was mentioning and come up with those creative ideas that can really help their careers. Something to consider as we keep this discussion going!

Anonymous said...

hi Anita,

I have a serious distraction. how do you deal with Oedipus syndrome?? with a line manager whom you do have to report everyday and the dept knows about abt she hitting on me? appreciate your help


Anita said...

Dear Mr. XYZ,
Since you don't disclose your location, I'll go ahead and refer you to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (, which is where you report and learn about sexual harassment. If you don't want to go that route -- and I know many people don't -- then you're going to have to take action to deal with this on your own since you're obviously not getting support. Check out:
I know this is a woman's point of view and it may not all apply in your case, but I think some of the information might be valuable. There's no reason a boss should be allowed to take such advantage of an employee, no matter the gender. It's up to you to let this person know that the attention is unwanted, and that it's affecting your ability to do your job.
Good luck, and let me know how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, blogs is a distractions as well due to it's partial social nature.
I try to comment during lunch, but a really good post can keeps me thinking too much about it and it could a distraction. (Although other times it's motiviational)

Anita said...

Well, I'd hate for you to give up all blogs...especially mine! I do enjoy your comments and certainly hope I get you thinking and motivate you. But, you're a smart guy to only do it on your lunch hour.
Thanks for adding your thoughts.