Time Management—Part 5: Managing Distractions Successfully
The best time management system in the world can’t help if you fail to identify and manage the things that distract you from focusing on your work
David Cox | September 17, 2019
Managing distractions – Identifying internal challenges
Managing distractions is essential to your success in business. While many distractions are external (phone calls, drop-in visits, email alerts, etc.), I want to focus on the more internal forms and your ability to identify them. Undoubtedly, you need to eliminate such distractions before they do any real damage to your efforts.
The good news is that most internal distractions are well within your sphere of control and as such, are manageable. Here are five internal distractions that I’ve experienced personally, along with suggestions on how to manage them.
- Staying busy does not mean you’re productive
Let’s understand from the outset that busy and productive are two different words with different meanings. Unfortunately, too many individuals cling to the idea that “as long I stay busy, I’m productive.”
The University of Chicago conducted a study in which they found the belief that being busy is a sign of success. Further, they also found the view is so prevalent among some that they fear inactivity. These researchers described the drive within people to be work regardless of whether it positively impacts their productivity as “idleness aversion.”
I’ve fallen into this trap myself. Sometimes, I’ll think that I’m accomplishing things that “must be done” because I’ve been working on a particular task for hours. If the time I spent on that task was not indicative of its importance, my productivity was probably minimal.
In short, you need to break the habit of trying to appear busy and rationalizing that you’re productive. Doing so is essential to your productivity and the long-term health of your business.
- Procrastinating on critical tasks
There’s an old southern adage that says, “Tomorrow — the best time to do any job.” I feel the idea captures the essence of procrastination. Moreover, it encourages delaying some tasks for no other reason than they don’t seem appealing at the moment. Additionally, we need to understand that procrastination often creates a cycle where it becomes easier to put off what you should do right now.
Another reason so many people procrastinate is that they’re overwhelmed or intimidated by manageable tasks. Fortunately, this problem can often be handled by breaking larger tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps.
Also, keeping a to-do list and prioritizing your tasks in the order of their importance and difficulty has proven helpful in avoiding procrastination and managing distractions. I try to attack my most difficult tasks early in the day when I have the most energy and save the busy but unimportant tasks for later on.
- Listening to too many people
I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen otherwise intelligent, hard-working business owners with numerous ideas fail to act when they should. Typically, this failure to act occurs when business owners start listening to everyone else’s opinion.
I feel it’s vitally important to get feedback. Also, connections with the right people (mentors) can be a determining factor in your business success. However, listening to too many people is a guaranteed way to become overwhelmed during any project. In other words, too many opinions can create a breeding ground for self-doubt. When you’re listening to too many people telling you what’s right and what’s wrong, you sometimes fail to hear your voice in the matter at hand.
Suddenly, you’re second-guessing yourself, and even though you know how to make sound decisions, you’re becoming increasingly indecisive. Accordingly, I recommend getting opinions and feedback from a smaller circle of trusted individuals. Doing so will give you more confidence because these individuals are focused on your best interests.
- A lack of self-organization
A disorganized business is a distraction to you and your customers. Generally, it leads to internal confusion while externally hurting your credibility. If you’re not good at staying well-organized, involve your spouse, delegate tasks, or outsource some of your systems. Always leave your customers with the impression that you’re on top of the work you do for them and that you can handle their business.
Correcting a lack of self-organization is within your sphere of control. Unfortunately, there is a high cost to be paid if you’re unwilling to keep this problem in check. Managing your distractions through self-organization will further your credibility with others, including employees, upper management, and your customers.
- Saying “yes” to almost everything
You may be like Jim Carrey’s character in the movie “Yes Man.” He says yes to every idea. Remember, it was Jim Carrey who was paid $10 million for playing a fictional character in a movie. If you try saying yes to everything, you’ll likely get into trouble. The old axiom in business is still true: “You can’t please everyone.”
Excessive “people-pleasing” is a significant distraction, and frankly, you can’t afford it. Furthermore, it can undermine much of the credibility you’ve already earned. Remember, your time and resources are finite. You need to focus on tasks, projects, and relationships that are going to bring about positive results. As far as your business is concerned, growth and development are still what’s most important.
You don’t have to say yes to everything or even to most things. It’s imperative to make sure you avoid the stress of agreeing to do things you might regret later.
Managing distractions – Avoid traps by staying focused
Even simple distractions can devour enormous blocks of your time. They’re often so subtle that you may not even know there’s a problem until the damage becomes apparent. If you can recognize some of the biggest distractions that plague business owners, you’re less likely to fall into the same traps. Instead, stay focused and accomplish more with less wasted effort.
As a business owner, you remain on the lookout for significant obstacles and potential landmines that could derail your efforts. Unfortunately, the greatest threat to the demise of your business may come from within you. Thus, managing distractions within your control are essential to your success.
Managing distractions – The fifth rule of time management
As we complete our series on time management, we add rule #5 to finish our list.
Rule #5 – Your ability to manage distractions and remain focused on your tasks is essential to your success