“Being a good writer is 3% effort – 97% not getting distracted by the internet” – Anonymous
The quote above first came to my attention a few years ago when I was working in the book publishing industry. It was pasted into the email signature of an author whose book I was creating a marketing plan for and, though I’ve never managed to find out who said it first, I’ve always felt it had a real ring of truth about it.
Email and the internet – how did we live without them? But now, with them, how do we get anything else done? Essential tools for rapid research and communication they might be, but ill-used they can trap us into a cycle of hopeless inefficiency, as distractions increase and half-done jobs mount up with them. Social media – an integral part of many of our jobs these days – is a particular minefield of distractions that can keep us from productive work for hours on end, if we let it.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of tips out there – on that very distracting internet – for making the most of the time we have and minimising time spent on diversions. Here are three of the most helpful tips I’ve come across:
Set clear and achievable goals
Create a timeline that breaks down where you want to be with your tasks at specific points during the day – and stick to your deadlines. Of course urgent tasks may fall upon us with little warning, meaning that other tasks have to be put on hold. But I’m sure I’m not the only person to have ever left one half written email in order to respond to another, when there was really no such urgency and my time would have been better served finishing the task at hand before moving on and giving the next my full attention. Finish the job at hand before moving on.
Share your goals with others
Deadlines or goals that only you know about are easily deferred. When others are aware of them – and expecting to see results – the impetus to deliver is stronger. Some accountability of this nature tends to focus the mind.
Switch off, or escape from, distractions
It may sound obvious, but if you need to focus on an important task, avoid the distractions that you know afflict you. If the phone keeps ringing, put it straight to voicemail and set a reminder to check it for urgent messages throughout the day. If the emails keep pinging, switch off new mail notifications and check Outlook regularly throughout the day. Noisy office? A day at home or in a quiet meeting room might be beneficial to knuckling down and getting a report written or a presentation prepared.
There are any number of other tips out there – but for any of them to work, a suitable amount of self-discipline and focus are required. Identify where your distractions come from and take the necessary measures to step up your productivity.